I was saddened to hear of the passing of Sarah Bridges. Sarah was a talented historical archaeologist and administrator of government archaeology programs. I knew Sarah primarily in the 1970s and 1980s through our participation in the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC). In those days, New York State archaeology was nearly synonymous with NYAC, and NYAC was significantly shaping Cultural Resource Management expectations and policies in New York. Government agencies that could have led the way ranged in their approach from neglectful of, to resistant to a proper role for archaeology in major, federally-funded construction programs.
Cultural Resource Management was brand new in the 1970s, meaning that sound routines were yet to be developed, and state and federal agencies had little idea of how to effectively meet archaeological responsibilities or incorporate them into Section 106 reviews. There may be cultural resource management transgressions today, but archaeologists much more often have a seat at the table; and for many federal programs, the contentious question isn’t whether archaeology will be done so much as it is how much archaeology will be done, for how long, and whether anything else is needed for Section 106 compliance.
But in the 1970s, because of the slow development of archaeology within historic preservation and environmental review programs, NYAC was often in public disagreement with governmental policies and actions (or lack of policy and action). Sarah attended many NYAC meetings. In the days when there was little or no archaeological compliance through either Section 106 review or New York State archaeological reviews, as an active member with a career in government archaeology, Sarah provided valuable insights to NYAC regarding strategies and approaches for interaction with government bureaucracies. This was true in the earliest days and while some slow-to-mature review programs cautiously poked along through the subsequent Reagan era. Sarah is legendary for the contributions she made on the job and in advice to NYAC as historic preservation and other agencies acclimated to archaeology.
Not having seen Sarah in quite a few years, my memory of her takes me to Cultural Resource Management’s dreamtime, a time and place populated by the culture heroes, ancestral spirits, and totemic beings of New York State archaeology. This was a time and place when tall trees with straight trunks and strong canopies loomed large among the saplings. Archaeology in the dreamtime was ruled by character and driven by principles so shared among archaeologists that the sharing was palpable.
In my memory, Sarah stands tall among the trees that grew up back then.