The Archaeology of Eighteenth-Century Delaware:
Historic Context Development and Public Interpretation
Charles Lee Decker
The Louis Berger Group, Inc
During planning studies for the Puncheon Run Connector project, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) sponsored a program of archaeological excavation and interpretation for the Thomas Dawson Family Site. The treatment program for the Dawson Site included three major elements:
- archaeological excavation and analysis
- development of an historic context, following the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation
- a comprehensive program of public involvement and interpretation
The treatment program for the Dawson Site went far beyond the "typical" archaeological data recovery program, particularly in the development of an historic context. Historic context development is seen as one of the keys to development and implementation of best practices in the cultural resource management (CRM) industry. Archaeologists have wrestled with the concept of significance almost since the early days of the industry, shortly after passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. At the May 1999 National Forum on Assessing Historical Significance for Transportation Programs, many leading CRM practitioners agreed that one of the keys to evaluating cultural resource significance is the development and dissemination of historic contexts. Historic contexts, when developed in accordance with Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines, provide important guidance with regard to integrity requirements, information needs, and treatment strategies for various property types, as well as guidance for surveys and site evaluation studies. While most practitioners would agree that well developed contexts are necessary for valid resource evaluations, agencies have traditionally put aside little, if any, funding for historic context development, let alone publication and dissemination.
In addition to context development, a broad-based program of public involvement and interpretation was developed and implemented. Particularly since the new 36 CFR 800 regulations have been in effect, engaging the public in the Section 106 process has become increasingly important.