The River Basin Surveys Program

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  • Article traces the history of the Smithsonian Institution-River Basin Surveys, which had a major impact on archaeological methods and the understanding of archaeology in the Northern Plains areas of the United States. The River Basin Surveys was established in 1945 in response to concerns that important archaeological sites would be obliterated by post-World War II activity establishing flood control, river navigation, hydroelectric power generation, irrigation, and other improvements in Western American river valleys. Frank Harold Hanna Roberts, Jr., of the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology, served as director of the River Basin Surveys from 1945 to 1964, and led it through many funding and personnel difficulties.
  • At its inception, the program was based on agreements between the National Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution: NPS funded the program, and the Smithsonian coordinated the work. This arrangement remained in place through various reorganizations at the Smithsonian, but the program's work was transferred in 1969 to the NPS. The program, renamed as the Interagency Archaeological Services Program, was charged with doing contract work for and providing technical assistance to other agencies; it also implemented the NPS's responsibilities in the expanded Federal historic preservation program, and directed technical training, public education and awareness activities.


  • Roberts, Frank H. H (Frank Harold Hanna) 1897-1966
  • United States. National Park Service
  • United States National Museum
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • National Anthropological Archives (NAA)
  • Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
  • Smithsonian Institution-River Basin Surveys
  • River Basin Surveys
  • National Park Service Interagency Archaeological Services Program


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


The Journal, entitled "40 Something: The River Basin Surveys," is edited by Kimball M. Banks, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation archaeologist, and is a collection of 12 papers presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Plains Anthropological Society. This article is the first of the 12 papers and its author is Senior Archivist of the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

Contained within

North Dakota Archaeology Vol. 5 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Archaeology
  • Salvage archaeology
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Anthropology
  • Employees
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees

Physical description

p. 5-14

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