Baskets of artifacts illegally collected in a national park. (NPS)
America's archeological resources embody a rich heritage of human experiences and cultural identities. They provide information about people from the past and establish important connections to the present. They also provide evidence about important historical trends and events, inform about people's everyday lives and significant accomplishments, and give voice to people who are absent from or underrepresented in historical records.
Archeological resources are fragile and are easily damaged or destroyed. Bulldozers grading fields, looters digging for treasure, well-meaning visitors walking in restricted areas, erosion and other natural causes, and even archeologists who engage in unethical or unprofessional practices can cause damage to above- and below-ground archeological resources and thus lessen our ability to learn more about the past.
Interpretation can help law enforcement, rangers, and archeologists to protect archeological resources. Without meaning to do harm, many visitors feel the need to collect artifacts from the archeological sites they visit. They pick up objects from the ground in order to own a little bit of history. They may not realize that our ability to learn more about the past from these artifacts also depends upon knowing the artifact's provenience, meaning the precise location on the site the artifacts were discovered. So, taking souvenirs for one's own may be tempting, but it is wrong and is, in federal property including national parks, against the law.
Archeologists and interpreters should emphasize stewardship of archeological resources in any visitor exchange, from tours of archeological sites to exhibitions to discussions of ongoing fieldwork. Through effective preservation and protection, archeological resources can continue to convey their important history about people from the past to present and future generations of Americans.
Interpretive programs reach park visitors when they are still forming their opinions, value, and ethics. Long-term survival of park resources depends upon a stewardship ethic among the general population, The majority of threats to the resource are, by definition, human caused. Establishing a bond between visitors and the park can create a sense of shared ownership and lifelong commitment to park ethics.
For your information
Hidden Battlefields: Protecting the Archeological Story
Explore the importance of studying and preserving America's battlefields and how archeology expands our knowledge of their history and use.