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NPS Archeology Guide > Archeology Outreach > 2. Legal and Ethical Responsibilities

Legal and Ethical Responsibilities

Not only is archeology outreach a way to maximize the public benefits of NPS archeology, it is a legal and an ethical responsibility. Archeology outreach invites the public to participate and learn from archeology, which makes more transparent the use and purpose of taxpayer funds for archeological work.

Keep in mind that public outreach does not necessarily mean excavation-centric projects. Excavation, in fact, may not be the most ethical or responsible choice. Collections offer rich environments for outreach programs with students, volunteers, and other audiences. Exhibits, flyers, education packets, and websites are examples of outreach projects that protect sites and collections while making the results of archeology available.

For Managers


The NPS is responsible for developing the public benefits of archeological resources. Federal law and NPS policy direct land managers to incorporate archeological information into public outreach.

Antiquities Act of 1906, as amended: The Antiquities Act indicates that archeology is for the public's benefit:

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended (NHPA): NHPA sets out requirements for outreach:

NPS Director's Order 28A: Archeology: Federal laws to protect archeological resources for the public's benefit led to DO28A, which includes:

National Strategy for Federal Archeology: The National Strategy affirms and highlights the importance of public outreach in public archeology. Elements of the National Strategy for Federal Archeology include fighting looting with public awareness programs and sharing the results of archeological investigations. More specifically, the goal to increase public outreach and participation includes:

For Archeologists

Requirements and Responsibilities

Archeologists also should be familiar with the requirements described in the section of this Guide chapter written for managers.

An approach that incorporates outreach and education as part of archeological undertakings makes archeology significant to an audience that is broader than professionals alone. Such an approach offers opportunities for creative projects that demonstrate the value of archeology to the nation and establishes networks for the continued support of archeological investigation.

Remember that outreach can be considered in a broad way. Even though we tend to think of outreach as being primarily for the non-archeologist public, it is also a useful way to conceptualize the presentation of information to other professionals outside archeology. For example, administrative reports, planning documents, and other studies can benefit from an archeological perspective.

Professional Ethics

Major professional organizations have incorporated into their missions and professional ethics a message that outreach and education is a priority.

Working with Interpreters and Educators

Effective interpretation provides each visitor an opportunity for enjoyment, education, and personal reflection. It also moves a visitor to realize the relevance and significance of resources in contemporary life and how he or she plays a role in protecting them. Archeologists can take the opportunity to encourage stewardship by the public and spread the message of the significance of the resources and the need to protect them.

Both interpreters and archeologists should be aware of the range of our responsibilities to visitors, associated communities, and the resources themselves. Interpreters and archeologists work together in an open dialogue about archeologically-known facts, and the meanings derived from them, to establish relevance. Each works to provide both accurate information and multiple perspectives.

Curation and Collections

Curation is important. Unless collections are cared for and provenience information stays with the material remains collected, all the time and effort spent digging materials out of the ground and recording that process becomes useless.

Access to and use of collections is an essential aspect of both archeology and collections management, and is important as well in conducting interpretation and heritage-oriented activities. Archeologists and other scholars, interpreters, educators, culturally affiliated groups, and members of the public need access to collections for a wide range of activities.

Section 79.10 Use of collections in the federal regulations at 36 CFR Part 79, “Curation of Federally-Owned and Administered Archeological Collections” stipulates that: “(a) The Federal Agency Official shall ensure that the Repository Official makes the collection available for scientific, educational and religious uses, subject to such terms and conditions as are necessary to protect and preserve the condition, research potential, religious or sacred importance, and uniqueness of the collection.”

Consultation and Cultural Sensitivity

Outreach conducted by national parks reaches a diverse public, which means that outreach must be conducted sensitively. A perspective that is common sense to one visitor may deeply offend another on the basis of background, religious beliefs, or personal experience. Archeologists who conduct outreach must be sensitive to the fact that archeological resources have multiple meanings to different peoples. Acknowledging multiple points of view does not require interpretive and educational programs to provide equal time to all possible perspectives, or to disregard the weight of scientific or historical evidence.

Consultation can be one form of outreach. Consultation involves working with invested groups to make sure that outreach is culturally sensitive, accurate, and meets the needs of a range of publics. It enables individuals or groups who are represented archeologically to speak about their concerns or beliefs. It provides descendant groups with a voice in archeological outreach and insurance that their perspectives will not be misrepresented. Consultation with diverse populations improves outreach because it enhances and broadens content, and identifies multiple points of view and potentially sensitive issues. Possible partners in consultation include Native groups, park partners, schools and education councils, local communities or gateway communities, and others.

ARPA and Resource Protection

Many ARPA incidents result from local individuals who may or may not know that metal detecting or digging on federal land is a crime. A lack of understanding about why the NPS protects archeological resources is frequently behind incidents. One aim of archeological outreach is to improve the public's understanding of how and why the NPS manages the resources.

Archeologists must be prudent in the information they share about archeological resources. Archeology outreach does not mean sharing everything that is known about the location, condition, and contents of all sites in a park. Nor does it mean giving hints or advice on likely places to find sites. It does, however, mean reaching out to individuals who believe that the government is mismanaging artifacts by locking them away and not exhibiting them. These individuals believe that it is their right to possess the artifacts because they would do as good a job as the NPS in managing them.

Education and interpretation are tools to cultivate a stewardship ethic, as are volunteer programs and site stewardship programs. Archeologists and law enforcement officers who conduct ARPA investigations might investigate education and interpretation as complementary methods to other protection activities. Know, too, that metal detectorists and amateur archeologists have skills that may benefit federal efforts. Such work can go a long way in changing attitudes and improving understanding of federal policies and laws.