Cultural Resources in the Real WorldThese resources do not exist in a vacuum, of course. Instead they are situated in an environment where people live, work, have children, build new buildings and new roads, require sanitary landfills and parks, need safe and protected environments. On frequent occasions, the expansion or modification of cities and towns and rural areas impact or threaten to impact the cultural resources. In these circumstances, decisions must be made to strike a balance between the various interests: practical growth with an eye toward the protection of the cultural resources. Who manages these properties, who makes those decisions? All kinds of people, who take part in a political process balancing the trade-offs between growth and preservation: state agencies such as Departments of Transportation or State Historic Preservation Officers, politicians, construction engineers, indigenous peoples, archaeological or historical consultants, oral historians, historical society members, city leaders, in fact the list of interested parties varies with the project and cultural resources involved.
The Political Process of CRMMuch of what practitioners call Cultural Resource Management in the United States really deals with only those resources that are (a) physical places and things like sites and buildings, and that are (b) known or thought to be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. When a project or activity that a federal agency is involved in may affect such a property, a specific set of legal requirements, set forth in regulations under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, comes into play. The Section 106 regulations lay out a system of steps by which historic places are identified, effects on them are predicted, and ways are worked out to somehow resolve effects that are adverse. All this is done through consultation among the federal agency, the State Historic Preservation Officer, and other interested parties.
Section 106 does not protect cultural resources that are not historic properties--for example, relatively recent places of cultural importance, and non-physical cultural features like music, dance, and religious practice. Nor does it affect projects in which the federal government is not involved--that is, private, state, and local projects requiring no federal funds or permits. Nevertheless, it is the process of Section 106 review that most archaeologists mean when they say "CRM".
Thanks to Tom King for his contributions to this definition.