Cultural resource management is conducted as a result of many federal laws. As public awareness of archeological resources has increased, the need for federal legislation and policies to protect those resources has become apparent. The Antiquities Act of 1906 was the first such legislation. Laws, regulations, and policies not only protect archeological resources; they also establish guidelines for resource management, education, and public involvement in archeological stewardship. Key laws affecting archeological resources are briefly explained below.
The first major U.S. law to address the preservation of archeological resources is the Antiquities Act. Its primary focus is the protection of archeological sites from looting. The Act establishes the permit process for archeological excavation on federal and tribal lands in an effort to deter destruction of sites by anyone who is not a professional archeologist. It establishes fines and punishment for unauthorized excavation or looting. It also allows the president to declare historic or prehistoric sites or structures as national monuments, as President Clinton did several times during his presidency.
The 1979 Archeological Resources Protection Act (see below) further defines archeological resources and significantly increases penalties for those convicted of unauthorized removal or excavation of archeological resources from federal or tribal lands. For these reasons the majority of cases today are prosecuted under ARPA rather than the Antiquities Act.
For your information
Learn about the Antiquities Act and celebrates its accomplishments. Read more about the history of the Act. Learn about the places that have been protected. Explore the map showing all of the national monuments.
The National Park Service Organic Act created the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior to:
promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. (Unrau and Williss, Chapter One, B).
The National Park Service Organic Act enables the Senate and the House of Representatives to designate an area as a National Park, Historic Site, Battlefield, or Seashore, with “enabling legislation.” The President then signs the bill into a law. The “enabling legislation” is a document stipulating the park's mission, goals, and scope of interpretation. Thereafter, the park's interpretive, exhibit, and visitor services programs reflect this mandate.
The Historic Sites Act declares it a federal policy to preserve historic and prehistoric areas of national significance and establishes the National Historic Landmarks program. It also empowers the Secretary of the Interior to “secure, collate, and preserve drawings, plans, photographs, and other data of historic and archeologic sites, buildings, and objects.” The passage of the Historic Sites Act also formalizes National Park Service programs involved in salvage archeology, programs that were designed to put many people to work during the Great Depression (Childs and Corcoran 2000).
The Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960 is another important piece of legislation that directly affected salvage archeology programs. Such programs, which began during the Depression and continued in a revised form until after World War II, employed many people, salvaged the data from many archeological sites, and created many new collections. The passage of this law was related to the widespread destruction of archeological sites from large-scale construction, such as federal dams and highways. The Act did not address the care and management of the large collections that resulted from salvage work.
For your information
Regs., and Standards
Contains the full texts of laws, regulations, standards and guidelines, and executive orders related to cultural resources.
Archeology Laws and Ethics
This web site explains archeological laws to the public.
Try it yourself
Parks create planning documents to chart a course for management. Has your park created any of these planning documents?
- General Management Plan
- Resources Management Plan
- Statement for Management
- Interpretive Prospectus
- Development Concept Plan
- Cultural Landscapes Inventory
- List of Classified Structures
- List of National Register of Historic Places Sites
- National Maritime Initiative Inventory
- Cultural Resources Bibliography (CRBIB)
- Ethnographic Resources Inventory