Friday, March 6, 2009

1908 License Plate

The vast majority of archaeology conducted in the United States today is a direct result of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). This law requires Federal agencies and development projects receiving federal funds or permits to make a “good faith effort” in identifying and preserving historic resources that may be impacted by construction activities. Once identified, historic resources are evaluated for significance, in terms of their eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places.

Often, archaeological sites are identified in the survey phase of a project only to fall short of the threshold of significance in the evaluation phase. Typically, an archaeological site is deemed eligible only if it has contributed or is considered to have the potential to contribute new information about the about the past. Artifacts and the associated records for sites determined not to be eligible to the National Register are still curated at the State Museum of PA to document that the project sponsor has fulfilled it’s obligations as required under Section 106 of the NHPA.

The 1908 Pennsylvania license plate pictured here is one artifact recovered from the survey phase of archaeological excavations conducted prior to improvements to Route 219 in Johnstown, Cambria County, PA. Due to the disturbed nature of the soil deposits in the project area, this site lacked integrity and no further work was recommended by the consultant, Heberling Assoc., Inc., and the State Historic Preservation Office concurred with this finding.

Significance might seem like a fairly subjective term. What one person considers significant another person might not. In fact the NHPA outlines four criteria for eligibility to the National Register to standardize the definition of “significant”. While it has been determined to be historically insignificant, one could argue this object still has value as an artifact with the powerful ability to visually connect us with over a century of automobile history in Pennsylvania and can act as a platform for a wide range of related inquiry.

For more information on Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and see:
For a searchable database of National Register sites see:

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .


  1. When are we going to see some real prehistoric artifacts - something with some age on them?

  2. WoW! I learned so much from this post. I enjoy reading them each week. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great to see some comments, keep them coming! Patience March 6th, we'll get to some prehistorics in the very near future - stay tuned!

  4. A couple quick, but important, comments. While archaeological sites may typically be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places for their information potential (Criterion D), they can and should be considered under all four National Register Criteria. Further, eligibility under Criterion D is not necessarily a consideration of new information but rather important information. Continued testing of currently held interpretations of the past is just as important, if not more important, as the generation of new interpretations.

  5. Thank you, March 24th. You're input on the finer points of Section 106 is insightful and appreciated.