National Park Service, Cultural Resources, Heritage Preservation Services
Strategies for Protecting Archeological Sites on Private Lands

LAWS SPECIFIC TO ARCHEOLOGY FOR PROTECTING ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES ON PRIVATE LANDS

LAWS SPECIFIC TO ARCHEOLOGY

Virtually every state has adopted laws specifically to protect archeological sites. Protection tends to be achieved through controlling the practice of archeology, such as how or by whom a site is excavated, rather than regulating the uses of the land of which the site is a part. The establishment of a permit system and prohibitions on unscientific investigations, sometimes called looting, pothunting, or relic-hunting, are common. Many of the state laws mimic those at the federal level that govern activities on federal lands.

STRATEGY BENEFITS PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO
Antiquities Statutes. Protects archeological sites by requiring a permit to excavate sites on public land or specially designated sites. Provides penalties for violations. Federal government and nearly all states have enacted antiquities legislation; some local communities may have adopted ordinances to prohibit unauthorized excavation and metal detecting on public lands. The antiquities statutes of some states cover private lands.
See Case Study 19
Permit process ensures that archeological work is carried out according to professional standards. Prosecutions of looters and vandals can serve as a deterrent. Effective only when application is made. Needs monitoring and enforcement to catch violators. May not cover private lands. Doesn't control land uses that can damage or destroy sites.
Burial Laws. Similar to antiquities laws, burial laws regulate the archeological removal of human burials by a permitting system, and often require the return of human skeletal remains and associated funerary objects that can be related to modern tribes or descendants. Provides penalties for violations. Other relevant state and local laws regulate the establishment and operation of active cemeteries; establish procedures for authorized removal and reinterment of burials; provide penalties for vandalism, desecration, and unauthorized disinterments; and often address abandoned or unmarked cemeteries. Permit process ensures that archeological work is carried out according to professional standards. Prosecutions of looters and vandals can serve as a deterrent. Only applies if burial is to be disinterred or excavated. Requires monitoring and enforcement. May not cover all types of burials, or other types of sites. Does not control land uses that can damage or destroy human burials.
Abandoned Shipwrecks. The federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 gives states title and management responsibility to certain abandoned shipwrecks in their waters. States followed with laws of their own to protect underwater sites and allow sport diving. For more information on protecting underwater cultural heritage, see the National Park Service web site, Preserving a Submerged Legacy. Permitting system ensures that archeological work is carried out according to professional standards. Penalties for violations can deter looters. Effective only when permit application is made. Needs monitoring and enforcement. Multiple agency jurisdictions can complicate statute administration. State laws vary in their effectiveness in protecting shipwrecks.


Introduction | Considerations | Land Ownership | Financial Options | Development Regulations | Laws Specific to Archeology | Voluntary Strategies | Site Management | Taking the Initiative | Bibliography | Appendices | Home | Comments

Heritage Preservation Services | Historic Preservation Planning

National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior FOIA Privacy Disclaimer FirstGov