Cultural resources management (CRM) is a branch of archaeology, undertaken particularly in the United States, concerned with the identification, maintenance, and preservation of significant cultural sites.
It has its roots in the salvage archeology undertaken throughout North America in the years surrounding World War II. Salvage projects were hasty attempts to identify and rescue archaeological remains before they were destroyed to make room for large public-works projects or other construction. In the early days of salvage archaeoloy, it was nearly unheard-of for a project to be delayed because of the presence of even the most fascinating cultural sites, so it behooved the salvage archaeologists to work as fast as possible. Although many sites were lost, much data was saved for posterity through these salvage efforts.
In more recent decades, legislation has been passed that emphasizes the identification and protection of cultural sites, especially those on public lands. The most notable of these laws remains the National Historic Preservation Act. The administration of PresidentRichard Nixon was most instrumental in passing and developing this legislation, although it has been extended and elaborated upon since. These laws make it a crime to develop any federal lands without conducting a cultural resources survey in order to identify and assess any cultural sites that may be impacted.
If no significant archaeological sites are found in the impacted area, construction may proceed as planned. If some remains are found, construction may be delayed to allow for excavation. If archaeologists find extraordinarily valuable remains, the government may force the project to be modified or abandoned in order to preserve the site. These restrictions can extend to private development efforts as well, if those efforts involve public waterways or federal funds.
While archaeological sites remain the primary focus for most CRM archaologists, other cultural sites -- such as buildings, bridges, Native American ceremonial sites, and ethnohistorical projects -- also fall within their purview.
CRM has been a mixed blessing for archaeology. Preservation legislation has ensured that no valuable site will be destroyed by construction without study, but the work of CRM archaeologists is not always sound. Some academic archaeologists do not take CRM work seriously, because of its emphasis on site identification and preservation rather than intensive study and analysis. CRM firms obtain contracts through a bidding process; it is not unusual for the company responsible for construction to select the bid with the lowest price estimate, regardless of the soundness of the submitted plan, though this not always the case. The impact of CRM has been considerable; given the large amount of construction, the bulk of archaeological work in the United States is conducted through CRM channels.