Some Observations on the Smithsonian Institution River Basin Surveys Excavation and Reporting Standards and Conventions

By Butler, William B. | Plains Anthropologist, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Some Observations on the Smithsonian Institution River Basin Surveys Excavation and Reporting Standards and Conventions


Butler, William B., Plains Anthropologist


The Smithsonian Institution's River Basin Surveys (SIRBS) program was one of the most successful archeological salvage programs ever conducted in the United States. The success of the program was directly related to the field excavation and recording standards established early in the programs development. This paper discusses field and laboratory recording, cataloging, measurement systems, and other standards as a contribution to the history of the River Basin Surveys program, and to aid researchers in analyzing or reanalyzing SIRBS collections.

Keywords: Smithsonian Institution River Basin Surveys, field and recording standards and procedures

The Smithsonian Institution's River Basin Surveys (SIRBS) programs were one of the most successful archeological salvage programs ever conducted in the United States. Of the 92 sites listed in Appendix 1 of Donald Lehmer's classic Introduction to Middle Missouri Archeology (1971), final reports of various length and quality have been produced for about 64 sites. The 92 sites on Lehmer's list only included the sites he determined to be major excavations, i.e. the costs exceeded $2,500 (Thiessen, personal communication 2008). With few exceptions, they rarely included information about the SIRBS standards and conventions used for recording, excavation, or analysis. Lehmer (1971:13-18) provided a general overview of SIRBS practices, and the papers in Banks (1994), Jennings (1985), Wood and Hoffman (1994), and Thiessen (1999) should be consulted for background information on the overall SIRBS program.

This paper presents additional information gleaned from an analysis of the SIRBS excavated Benge Creek site in South Dakota (Butler 2007)1. The Benge Creek site collection and associated documents are referenced here as they are good examples of how the Smithsonian organized, conducted, and reported on field research along the Missouri River, and elsewhere in the nation.

The following observations are presented as a contribution to the history of the Smithsonian Institution's River Basin Surveys Program and to assist others who may wish to analyze or reanalyze the reported and unreported SIRBS collections. Included below are some of Lehmer's (1954, 1971) observations, information from the late J. J. (Jake) Hoffman who worked on many of the Middle Missouri sites for the SIRBS during this time period (see Johnson 2003), and information from working on the Fay Tolton site analysis (Wood 1 976), as well as with the Benge Creek collection. The observations of Hoffman (personal communication 1985) are very important to understanding and analyzing SIRBS collections as many conventions and procedures were never written down, i.e., they were informally developed and were passed on to others in the course of field and lab work. The history of the development of Plains ceramic taxonomies by SIRBS investigators is presented in Butler and Hoffman (1992).

SITE RECORDS AND RECORDING CONVENTIONS

The River Basin Surveys created many standard forms for site recording, including a General Feature form (used for just about everything), Burial, Photographic, Catalog, and Field Record Number sheets, and the ubiquitous Continuation form. These field and laboratory forms were created to insure that (1) certain observations were taken and that (2) recording was done in a consistent and standardized manner. One reviewer suggested that such forms be attached to this article as examples, but most archeologists have already seen modified versions as they were the basis for the state site recording and field forms now in use throughout the nation - another very important contribution by the SIRBS program.

The Smithsonian trinomial number is the key number for managing all records related to a site. As a historical note, it was Paul Cooper who came up with the idea behind the Smithsonian trinomial site numbering system that could be used nationwide when he was the director of the Works Project Administration for archeological work in Nebraska between 1937 and 1942 (Champe 1948; Wood and Hoffman 1992). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Some Observations on the Smithsonian Institution River Basin Surveys Excavation and Reporting Standards and Conventions
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.