The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 reflected the broad-scale recognition of a need to protect cultural resources, defining historic preservation as "the protection, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology or culture." Section 106 of the act requires all federal agencies to take into account the effect of any federal development project on such cultural resources which may be eligible for inclusion into the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP). Section 106 also authorizes a review process created by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as detailed in 36 CFR 800, by which qualified professionals evaluate the potential for properties to contain significant cultural resources and report such findings to a designated independent review agency, often the relevant State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) as established in Section 101 of the NHPA. The NHPA paved the way for a series of other federal, state, and municipal regulations which are tailored to address the need for heightened cultural resource conservation efforts.
While federal, state, and municipal agencies have internal mechanisms for mandating cultural resource studies in association with public development projects, private entities such as development corporations are typically notified of such a need by a relevant government agency only after requesting permits to proceed with a particular project. The development corporation is then required to perform the cultural resource study in advance of any major developments associated with a project, a logistical issue which frequently disrupts project scheduling if the requirement is not anticipated well in advance. Many companies are only now becoming aware of the greater complexities of project planning due to increased governmental regulations concerning cultural resources as well as a host of other environmental issues. There is a greater recognition in recent years, therefore, of the advantages found through advanced planning which incorporates "due diligence" studies ahead of such requirements.
The review agency, under which the regulatory domain of a development project lies, will typically expect a phased approach to the evaluation of cultural resources. The Phase I archaeological reconnaissance survey is designed to merely identify the existence of any prehistoric or historic archaeological resources within a project area. The reconnaissance survey, therefore, typically involves preliminary background research, a pedestrian surface survey, an efficient subsurface testing strategy, analysis of recovered materials, and an interpretive report stating the results of research and testing. The report also contains professional recommendations regarding the disposition and suggested future conservation requirements of any cultural resources identified on the property, which may include no further conservation efforts based on a lack of sites or poor preservation, a more intensive Phase II archaeological study of identified sites to evaluate their potential eligibility for inclusion into the NRHP, or some other mechanism designed to protect sites without further evaluation such as conservation easements or alternative design planning. The client or development corporation will typically be able to choose from alternative recommendations as ultimately approved by the review agency.
It should be noted that more than half of all Phase I surveys fail to reveal potentially significant cultural resources warranting further conservation efforts. The list above provides an example of Phase I archaeological reconnaissance surveys performed by ACS, particularly those properties which have yielded an array of cultural resources and site data revealing patterns of past cultural systems.