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What is Archaeology?
Archaeology is the study of past ways of life through analysis of surviving physical remains. The science of archaeology comprises theory and methods. Theories include those about man and culture: how remains of past human behavior are structured in or on the ground (or underwater) and how they can be interpreted. Methods are the means by which remains are identified, recovered, and analyzed to extract information and interpret it. Among those methods is archaeological survey which consists of a three phase approach to locate (Phase I), evaluate (Phase II), and treat (Phase III) significant archaeological resources or sites.

What types of Archaeological Sites Exist in New Jersey, and
Where are They Found?

Usually hidden below the ground surface or underwater, archaeological sites are a common resource in New Jersey, although they represent only a small percentage of properties listed in the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. The distribution of known sites often reflects areas that have been surveyed for sites, and therefore patterns of modern development rather than the actual distribution or patterns of past human settlement and land use. However, archaeological sites have been identified in all geographic areas of the state.

Prehistoric Native American site types in New Jersey include large and small residential settlements, cemetery and other mortuary sites, trails, stone quarries, fish weirs, shell middens, and a wide variety of special purpose locations where specific food and nonfood resources were collected and/or processed. Some sites were re-occupied for thousands of years, while others were used for only a limited period.

Historic archaeological sites occur in conjunction with historic districts, buildings, and structures, including industrial and commercials buildings such as mills and warehouses, although they frequently remain after above-ground portions of the properties no longer remain. They also include battlefields, for example, where associated buildings may never have existed, but where evidence of human activity survives in or on the ground. Cemeteries, as well as remains of engineering features such as canals, bridges, dams, and early roadways, are also archaeological sites.

Underwater archaeological sites are found in navigable portions of rivers, bays, and especially off of the Atlantic coast. New Jersey is a small state, but its borders consist primarily of shoreline. New Jersey waters possess an estimated 3000 shipwrecks, primarily from the sailing ship era. Shipwrecks are concentrated along the Atlantic coast, generally speaking, for two related reasons. Although there were no major ports along the coast itself, the coastline lies between the large ports along Raritan Bay and New York Harbor, and those along the Delaware and Chesapeake bays. New Jersey's barrier beaches and inlets offer little protection from storms, and ships frequently were lost as a result.

While not all archaeological sites are important in understanding our history or prehistory, virtually all locations where human activity has taken place with any intensity or for some length of time retain detectable remains.

Types of Archaeological Sites

Significance of Archaeological Sites

Why Are Archaeological Remains Important?
There are no written records for the first 10,000 years (or more) of Native American history in New Jersey. Human behavior leaves physical traces, and investigation of archaeological remains aids in reconstructing that lost history. Even during Colonial and more recent times, a great deal of Native American, Afro-American, and Euro-American experience and history went unwritten. Some of this history is recoverable through archaeology. Archaeology can also help bring considerations of social justice to the present through investigation of the past. For more on this topic, please see Archaeology & the Importance of Sifting for Answers about our Forgotten Past.

Important sites on public lands belong to all of us, and their gradual loss from public lands robs us all of knowledge about our past.  For a discussion of how these losses affect your community and strategies for archaeological site protection, please see Archaeological Site Looting and the Loss of Public Heritage – A Tyranny of Small Decisions (See page 16)

For discussion of the value and usefulness or archaeology and archaeological sites to your community, please see, Making the Past Come Alive (See page 2) and Keeping the Public in Public Archaeology (See page 6).

An act protecting New Jersey's publicly owned heritage.
Public Law 2004, c. 170 - An Act providing for the protection of certain publicly owned archaeological findings and archaeological sites was signed into law in New Jersey in 2004.  The statute establishes penalties for alteration, defacing, disturbing, or removing archaeological material from public lands without written authorization.  For additional discussion regarding issues associated with archaeological looting on public lands, please see the Summer 2004 Planning Bulletin (https://www.state.nj.us/dep/hpo/hpb_summer2004.pdf ).

Archaeological Survey

What Is Archaeological Survey?
An archaeological survey is an effort to locate and register archaeological sites (Phase I), and evaluate them for their eligibility for listing in the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places (Phase II). Archaeological surveys in New Jersey are guided by the HPO's Guidelines for Phase I Archaeological Investigations: Identification of Archaeological Resources, and Guidelines for Preparing Cultural Resources Management Archaeological Report Submitted to the Historic Preservation Office. These guidelines complement the HPO's Guidelines for Architectural Survey as well as the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation.

When Is Archaeological Survey Recommended?
Three factors are considered in assessing the need for a field survey to identify archaeological sites within the Area of Potential Effects (APE) of a project site. These are (1) the nature of the proposed project and its APE, (2) the presence or absence of documented archaeological historic properties in the APE, and (3) the potential for the presence of undocumented archaeological historic properties in the APE. Survey is recommended only if a proposed project could result in significant changes in the character of archaeological sites that are listed in, or eligible for listing in, the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, and such sites are either known to exist within the APE or have high potential to be present within the APE. For further consideration of this topic, see the HPO's Guidelines for Phase I Archaeological Investigations.

Archaeological Site Registration

How Can I  Register Archaeological Sites With The State?
When a previously unreported site is discovered by Phase I survey, it should be officially registered as soon as possible. New Jersey's site registration program is within the Bureau of Archaeology and Ethnology at the New Jersey State Museum (NJSM). The statewide site records are maintained at the NJSM and are not duplicated at the HPO.

Site forms may be accessed under forms and publications below or from the Archaeological Society of New Jersey website. For additional information, contact:

Gregory D. Lattanzi, Ph.D.
Bureau of Archaeology and Ethnology
New Jersey State Museum
PO Box 530

Trenton, NJ 08625
Phone: 609-984-9327

Public Opportunities in Archaeology

Archaeological Site Protection at the Local Level





How Can I Learn More About Local Archaeology?
Several State
and regional organizations host archaeological conferences that welcome the public.  Some of these include the Archaeological Society of New Jersey, the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology, the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, and the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference.

Are There Tools For Protecting Archaeological Sites In My community?
Several municipalities have raised the stature and protection of archaeological sites within their boundaries through their municipal master plans.  These municipal master plans provide mechanisms for archaeological site identification, designation, and protection, including development of municipal ordinances and formation of historic preservation commissions.   

Although development of a new ordinance can be daunting, there are several that already exist throughout the State that can serve as models.  In particular, Hopewell Township in Mercer County has developed an excellent ordinance which includes consideration of archaeological properties.  The November 2004 Historic Preservation Plan Element of Hopewell Township’s Master Plan is available on the township website.
(http://www.hopewelltwp.org/Historic_Preservation_Plan_Element.pdf )

As noted in this element of the Master Plan. “if the purposes and goals of the Historic Preservation Plan element are important to the Township, then historic preservation considerations must be fully incorporated in the land use planning aspects of the Land Use Ordinance.”  Copies of the Hopewell Townships March 2, 2000 historic preservation ordinance (No.00-1142) are available from the Historic Preservation Office by mail or E-Mail .

For more information on archaeological site protection through local archaeological site survey, designation, and protection please see Archaeological Site Identification & Protection at the Municipal Level (on page 10 of the Spring 2004 Historic Preservation Bulletin).  Please see also Local Tools for Historic Preservation (https://www.state.nj.us/dep/hpo/3preserve/local.htm ) for further discussion of local ordinances, historic preservation commissions, and other tools for protection of historic and archaeological properties.

Archaeological Conservancy


Looking for a few good sites...
The Archaeological Conservancy is looking for a few good archaeological sites in New Jersey - for acquisition and preservation to benefit future generations of scholars and students. The Conservancy was established in 1980 and remains our country's only national non-profit organization dedicated to acquisition and protection of the nation's most important archaeological sites. The Conservancy has acquired more than 285 sites in 38 states dating from the earliest Native American period to the historic period.

Remarkably, there are no Conservancy sites preserved in New Jersey! This is unfortunate given the rate of site loss and how many of us are troubled by it. Although the Conservancy often acquires sites after threats are identified, please don't wait until that important site is threatened to get in touch with the Conservancy. Provide a map location (including a tax map and lot and block, if available), local contacts, and information pertinent to consideration of the site.

Things you should know about potential Archaeological Conservancy acquisition sites:

  1. May be historic or prehistoric period sites;
  2. May be any size;
  3. Must be eligible for National Register of Historic Places inclusion;
  4. Must have significant research potential;
  5. May or may not be threatened (although nothing galvanizes support like a good threat, often the timing and controversy impact success in negotiation);
  6. Will usually be privately held, especially sites adjacent to public land such as parks - some Conservancy sites have been incorporated into public parks or parks programming;
  7. May or may not have local management groups/stewards, although local support and potential management make sites better candidates for acquisition;
  8. May sometimes be acquired by the Conservancy as an interim protective measure until local agents complete financial arrangements for acquisition;
  9. May in some instances remain in agricultural use (or other) production, provided that use does not conflict with site preservation;
  10. May in some instances (although rarely) include buildings on the site.
  11. Will in some cases accept donation of archaeological easements.

If you know of a site that should be considered for acquisition by the Archaeological Conservancy, please contact:

Andy Stout, Eastern Regional Director, Archaeological Conservancy, 717 N. Market Street, Frederick, MD 21701. (301) 682-6359; wac5pio@aol.com.


Forms and Publications:

  1. Guidelines for Phase I Archaeological Investigations: Identification of Archaeological Resources. (HTML)
  2. Guidelines for Preparing Cultural Resources Management Archaeological Report Submitted to the Historic Preservation Office. (PDF Format)
  3. Guidelines for Architectural Survey: (All PDF Format): Cover, Title Page and Contents, Body Text, Glossary and Appendices.
  4. NR Bulletin #24: Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis For Preservation Planning (NPS Website)
  5. Archaeology & the Importance of Sifting for Answers About Our Forgotten Past, HPO Planning Bulletin, April-June 1996. (PDF Format)
  6. NR Bulletin: Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Archeological Properties (NPS Website)
  7. Choosing an Archaeological Consultant (NPS Local Preservation Series) (PDF Format)
  8. NJSM Site Form: PDF Format, MS Word Format
  9. Chesler's 1982 New Jersey's Archeological Resources
  10. Archaeology of the Upper Delaware Valley by Dr. R. Michael Stewart

Useful Links :

  1. The Archaeological Society of New Jersey
  2. National Park Service Links to the Past
  3. Strategies for Protecting Archaeological Sites on Private Lands (NPS Website)
  4. ArchNet - WWW Archaeology
  5. Anthropology in the News
  6. Siftings
  7. Archaeological Conservancy
  8. Other Links

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Last Updated: August 23, 2019