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Cultural Resources Evaluation

Under California procedures, “cultural resource” is the general term for archaeological sites, historic buildings, structures or objects, Native American sacred sites, historic locations, and other places in the record of human habitation and use of California that can contribute to our knowledge of the past.  A cultural resources evaluation is an investigation to determine whether or not there are any cultural resources within a specific property.  As explained below, there are specific guidelines and procedures that must be followed to determine if an archaeological site, or other potentially significant cultural resource can meet the criteria to be classified as an “historic resource.”

Specific Tasks To Be Accomplished

Archaeology servicesThe following basic tasks are to be accomplished as part of a  cultural resources evaluation conducted under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) project:

  1. A  check of the information on file with our office and the Regional Office of the California Historical Resources Information System, to determine the presence or absence of previously recorded historic or prehistoric cultural resources,
  2. A check of appropriate historic references to determine the potential for historic era archaeological deposits, and;
  3. Contact with the Native American Heritage Commission to determine the presence or absence of listed Sacred Lands within the project area;
  4. Contact with all appropriate Native American organizations or individuals designated by the Native American Heritage Commission as interested parties for the project area;
  5. A surface reconnaissance of all accessible parts of the project area to locate any visible signs of potentially significant historic or prehistoric cultural deposits.
  6. Preparation of a report describing the work accomplished, the results of the research, and making appropriate recommendations for further action, if warranted.

Steps in the Process

Literature Evaluation

A literature check is performed through the appropriate regional office of the California Historical Resources Information System at various locations around the state.  This information is supplemented by information from the files of Archaeological Resource Service. 

We also examine historical records to determine the presence or absence of past or present land uses that may have produced potentially historic deposits or features.

Native American Contacts

We contact the Native American Heritage Commission with a request to check the Sacred Lands file maintained by them.  This database lists sacred places recorded by Native Americans or observed by anthropologists or archaeologists.  These places can be rock art sites (petroglyphs or pictographs), cemeteries or funerary locations, important village sites, or locations associated with specific events or features of oral tradition.
The Native American Heritage Commission supplies us with a list of appropriate Native American contacts for the location.  We send a letter to each individual or organization requesting consultation regarding the project site.

Field Evaluation

The field evaluation consists of examining all exposed soils within the proposed project area, as shown on the maps supplied by the client.  Normally the examination includes all locations where the proposed project will make a change in the physical environment.  If it appears appropriate to do so, soil samples might be taken from the surface.  The samples are taken using a 1 inch diameter, hollow core soil probe.  Where possible, the soil plug is replaced in the hole after examination.

If an archaeological deposit is present, and the deposit appears to be in its original location and capable of contributing to our knowledge of significant events in the past, recommendations will be made to assess its potential to be listed to the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Resources or a local listing.

Criteria For Evaluating Archaeological Resources

Archaeological resources, once identified, are evaluated using criteria established in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (14 CCR 15064.5 and PRC 21084.1).  Significant historical resources need to be addressed before environmental mitigation guidelines are developed and approved.  A “significant historical resource” (including both a prehistoric and historic resource) is one that is found eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources.  As per Title 14, California Code of Regulations Section 15064.5, historical resources are those that are:

  • Listed in, or eligible for listing in, the California Register of Historic Resources (Public Resources Code 5024.1, Title 14 CCR, Section 4850 et. seq.);
  • Listed in, or eligible for listing in, the National Register of Historic Places (CRHR);
  • Included in a local register of historical resources, as defined in an historical resource survey meeting the requirements of Section 5024.1(g) of the Public Resource Code; or
  • Any object, building, structure, site, area, place, record, or manuscript which a lead agency determines to be historically significant or significant in the architectural, engineering, scientific, economic, agricultural, educational, social, political, military, or cultural annals of California, provided the lead agency’s determination is supported by substantial evidence in light of the whole record.

Additionally, historical resources and historic districts designated or listed as city or county landmarks or historic properties or districts pursuant to any city or county ordinance can also be listed in the California Register, if the criteria for listing under the ordinance have been determined by the Office of Historic Preservation to be consistent with California Register criteria adopted by the commission (pursuant to Section 5024.1(e) of the PRC).
A resource may be listed as an historical resource in the California Register if it has integrity and meets any of the following National Register of Historic Places criteria:

  1. Is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
  2. Is associated with the lives of persons important in our past; or
  3. Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or represent the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
  4. Has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

CEQA (PRC 21083.2) also distinguishes between two classes of archaeological resources: archaeological sites that meet the definition of a historical resource as above, and “unique archaeological resources.”  A “unique archaeological resource” has been defined in CEQA as an archaeological artifact, object, or site about which it can be clearly demonstrated that, without merely adding to the current body of knowledge, there is a high probability that it meets any of the following criteria:

  1. Contains information needed to answer important scientific research questions and that there is a demonstratable public interest in that information,
  2. Has a special and particular quality such as being the oldest of its type or the best available example of its type, or
  3. Is directly associated with a scientifically recognized important prehistoric or historic event or person.

Buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts representative of California and United States history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture convey significance when they also possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.  A resource has integrity if it retains the characteristics that were present during the resource’s period of significance.  Enough of these characteristics must remain to convey the reasons for its significance. 

As of July 2015, two new classes of resources have been defined.  Tribal cultural resources and Tribal cultural landscapes can be any of a variety of cultural sites as defined by the individual tribe.  These resources, once identified, are treated as significant resources under CEQA.

The fact that a resource is not listed in, or determined to be eligible for listing in the CRHR, or included in a local register of historical resources (pursuant to Section 5020.1(k) of the PRC), or identified in an historical resources survey (meeting the criteria in Section 5024.1(g) of the PRC) does not preclude a lead agency from determining that the resource may be an historical resources as defined in PRC sections 5020.1(j) or 5024.1.


Archaeological Resource Service
613 Martin Avenue, Suite 101 Rohnert Park, California 94928
Phone: (707) 586-2577 Fax: (707) 586-2580
Email: info@digsmart.com

Copyright 2003-2017 Archaeological Resource Service
The information provided herein is for general background purposes only and is not intended as a definitive statement of either the presence or absence of archaeological deposits on any particular property or the handling thereof.  It is not a substitute for professional investigation and advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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