The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)
Reproduced from Archaeological Method and Theory: An Encyclopedia, edited by Linda Ellis, Garland Publishing Co., New York and London, 2000.
Francis P. McManamon

This statute (16 U.S.C. 470aa-470mm; Public Law 96-95 and amendments to it) was enacted secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites which are on public lands and Indian lands, and to foster increased cooperation and exchange of information between governmental authorities, the professional archaeological community, and private individuals (Sec. 2(4)(b)).

The reasons behind enactment include recognition that archaeological resources are an irreplaceable part of America's heritage and that they were endangered increasingly because of the escalating commercial value of a small portion of the contents of archeological sites.

Section 4 of the statute and Sections 16.5-16.12 of the uniform regulations describe the requirements that must be met before Federal authorities can issue a permit to excavate or remove any archeological resource on Federal or Indian lands. The curation requirements of artifacts, other materials excavated or removed, and the records related to the artifacts and materials are described in Section 5 of the act. This section also authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to issue regulations describing in more detail the requirements regarding these collections. These regulations, which affect all Federally owned or administered archeological collections, were issued in 1990 as 36 CFR 79.

The primary impetus behind ARPA was the need to provide more effective law enforcement to protect public archeological sites. Two improvements over the Antiquities Act, which was the statute designed to provide this protection prior to ARPA's enactment, were more detailed descriptions of the prohibited activities and larger financial and incarceration penalties for convicted violators. Section 6 of the statute describes the range of prohibited actions, including damage or defacement in addition to unpermitted excavation or removal. Also prohibited are selling, purchasing, and other trafficking activities whether within the United States or internationally. Section 6(c) prohibits interstate or international sale, purchase, or transport of any archeological resource excavated or removed in violation of a State or local law, ordinance, or regulation.

ARPA also substantially increased the penalties that can be levied against convicted violators. For a felony offense, first time offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for up to one year. Second time felony offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to 5 years. These criminal penalties were substantial increases from those set in the Antiquities Act of $500 and 90 days imprisonment. In addition, Section 7 of ARPA enables Federal or Indian authorities to prosecute violators using civil fines, either in conjunction with or independent of any criminal prosecution. Section 8 (b) of the statute allows the court or civil authority to use forfeiture of vehicles and equipment used in the violation of the statute as another means of punishment against convicted violators.

The main focus of ARPA is on regulation of legitimate archeological investigation on public lands and the enforcement of penalties against those who loot or vandalize archeological resources. However, both the original statute and, especially, the amendments to it in 1988 provided authority to Federal officials to better manage archeological sites on public land. Section 9 requires that managers responsible for the protection of archeological resources hold information about the locations and nature of these resources confidential unless providing the information would further the purposed of the statute and not create a risk of harm for the resources. The statute also authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to cooperate with avocational and professional archeologists and organizations in exchanging information about archeological resources and improving the knowledge about the United States' archeological record (Section 11).

The 1988 amendments to ARPA focused more attention on management actions that must be taken to improve the protection of archeological resources (McManamon 1991). Section 10 (c) was added requiring each Federal land manager to "establish a program to increase public awareness of the significance of the archaeological resources located on public lands and Indian lands and the need to protect such resources." The object of this addition was to reach visitors using public lands with a message that archeological resources are valuable to all, but must be properly investigated and cared for and that they are protected legally on public lands. Anecdotal evidence from Federal officials in field units indicates that such public education and outreach is effective and that casual or unknowing destruction and vandalism has been reduced substantially.

Section 14 also was added by the 1988 amendments. It requires the major land managing Federal departments (Interior, Agriculture, Defense, and the Tennessee Valley Authority) to plan and schedule archeological surveys of the lands under their control. The aim of this new section was to emphasize the need for better knowledge of the locations and nature of archeological resources so that they can be better protected.

ARPA was drafted, debated, and enacted relatively quickly in the late 1970s when difficulties enforcing the Antiquities Act and weaknesses in the penalties provided by the Antiquities Act became critical (Friedman 1985). Provisions for effective law enforcement and careful, detailed definitions, the two most apparent weaknesses of the Antiquities Act, were the aspects of ARPA that received the most attention in its enactment and early years of enforcement. However, several sections, including those added by the 1988 amendments, make ARPA an important part of the overall statutory basis for effective archeological resource management in the United States. ARPA provides a very strong basis for archeological protection on public and Indian lands. Its anti-trafficking provision also make it an effective tool for discouraging illegal excavation or removal of archeological resources from State, local, or private lands throughout the United States.

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