Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Improving Archaeological Reports and Review: Part 1

We archaeological reviewers here at the PA SHPO have many jobs other than just reviewing Section 106 and State History Code submissions.  Among our ‘other duties as assigned’, we are also responsible for helping the GIS Section ensure that the information from archaeological reports gets into the CRGIS (Cultural Resources Geographic Information System) for use by consultants, planners, and the public.  Making sure all the data we receive at our office is curated correctly and that it is available online is a big job – one that you, as report writers and submitters, can help us do more efficiently.

We routinely see three common report submission issues when archaeological reports are submitted to our office. The first issue we want to highlight here is the inclusion of an incorrect ER (Environmental Review) number, or potentially the complete absence of the ER number with the project submission. The ER Number is the way our office tracks all projects. We are part of the government so you will likely not be surprised that we have a tracking system that relies heavily on a nice long string of numbers. Not including an ER number (if you have one) with any project submission is taking the chance your report review may be delayed, misdirected, and/or even lost. Unfortunately, bureaucratic black holes do exist and we want to help you avoid being sucked into one. Consequently, to avoid routing issues for your report submission, if an ER number has been assigned to the project, please include this on the report cover and where indicated on a Negative Survey or Record of Disturbance Form.

Many of you may have wondered over the years what exactly the ER number means.  ER numbers are composed of four pieces of information.  The first number is the federal fiscal year in which the project was first submitted to our office for review.  The second number is the sequential number within a fiscal year for new submissions.  The third number is the county code.  This code includes odd numbers only from Adams (001) to York (133) – with the only exception to the rule being multi county projects (042).  The alpha code that follows is an ascending submission code for each new submission for that project.  For example, ER# 2013-0152-001-D was first received by our office in federal fiscal year 2013, was the 152nd project received by us for review that year, and is located in Adams county.  The alpha code D indicates that it is the fourth submission to our office for that project.  Since the alpha code changes for every submission it should not be included when you submit new correspondence or reports.

The second issue we commonly see in report submissions is incomplete forms (a bureaucrat’s worst nightmare!). The Negative Survey Form, the Record of Disturbance Form, and the Report Summary Form are all used by our office for data entry of survey information into the CRGIS. If the forms are not filled out completely and accurately, then either potentially incorrect information will be entered into the CRGIS database or we archaeological reviewers will have to spend extra time attempting to complete the forms/correcting mistakes. We think it is very important for you to know that time we spend correcting mistakes or completing incomplete forms is time we are not spending on the review of your other submissions.  The most commonly blank or incorrect sections are: municipality, quad sheet name, watershed, and physiographic zone.  All of this information is available to you through the CRGIS.

Data EntryYou may also have noticed that all three of these forms are very similar in the information they ask for, and the order in which the information is presented.  As noted above, these forms are used for data entry of survey information into the CRGIS.  In addition to that, the Negative Survey Form and Record of Disturbance Form are also used for project review. As all three forms are used for data entry there is no need to attach a Report Summary Form to the Negative Survey Form or the Record of Disturbance Form. For report submissions that do not consist of a form, i.e. regular reports (Phase I, II, III, etc., draft and final reports), the Report Summary Form is the only mechanism for data entry. This form should be bound into those reports as an appendix so it does not become separated from the report (that dang bureaucratic black hole again).

File RoomThe third common oversight for submission to our office has to do with the killing of trees. Yes, you read that right. Our office receives thousands of submissions and reports for review annually. All those submissions are paper based, and all that paper results in the murder of our leafy friends. To keep the carnage to a minimum we would like to receive just what we need to complete our reviews and no more. For draft reports, we need one copy only for our review. We commonly receive two to six copies of draft reports. Please do not send us all of the copies that you think we will ever ask for (both draft and final) with the draft submission. To handle the masses of paperwork that flow through our office annually we have strict work flow/report flow systems in place. Additional copies of reports (i.e. finals sent with draft copies) do not work with this system and typically the additional report copies are simply recycled (and trees cry). When a draft report is accepted, we ask for final copies for our report archive and for the repositories.  For general information, we keep two copies (one bound and one unbound) here at the BHP. These materials are accessible for any legitimate research.  There are also two current remote, regional repositories:  Temple University in Eastern PA and an as yet unidentified western repository (formerly Carnegie Museum) in Western PA. Each regional repository receives one bound copy.  These repositories ensure regional access to archaeological reports as well as providing backup if anything were ever to happen to our main BHP repository.

On a similar note, with increasing frequency, we are finding cover letters, Request to Initiate Consultation/Cultural Resource Notice forms, and BHP review letters bound to the front of final report copies.  As our file space is limited, and as noted above we wish to spare our leafy friends their lives, please do not attach anything extra to the final report copies.  Reports and correspondence/ consultation forms are archived in separate places within our files.  As well, we already have a copy of back dated project correspondence and the initial project consultation forms in our files so additional copies are not needed.   When this information is bound to reports, we will remove it and throw it away.

We hope this information is useful for easing your submissions through our process. Working together we can make sure the information that goes into our files and into the CRGIS is accurate and useful for future research.


Co-Authored by Steve McDougal and Kira Heinrich.


  1. Steve Warfel

    Well done!

  2. Marcia Kodlick

    Thank you Steve and Kira – good reminders for everyone!

  3. jim1philly

    I don’t see mark Shaeffer’s name here on the website. Has he retired? I worked with him when I was Compliance guy at INDE Historic Site, Philly, NPS. thnx, Jim Mueller

    • Tom Held

      Yes, Mark does still work with us as an Archaeological Reviewer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial