Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) was signed into law on October 31, 1979. ARPA was enacted “to 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 having collections of archaeological resources and data which were obtained before October 31, 1979” (16 U.S.C. §470aa (b)).

Why was the Archaeological Resources Protection Act passed?
ARPA responded to the need for more effective law enforcement tools to protect archeological resources on public lands. The Antiquities Act of 1906 established a permitting process for archeological investigations on federal lands and penalties for unauthorized removal of archeological objects and destruction of sites. It did not, however, effectively in practice prevent or deter deliberate, criminal looting of archeological resources. In 1974, the case United States vs. Diaz successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Antiquities Act. Two judges ruled that the terms of the Act were too vague to be enforceable. In response, archeologists and preservationists collaborated with their allies in law enforcement and Congress to pass a new law that strengthened the legal protection of archeological resources.

What does the Archaeological Resources Protection Act do?
ARPA, as amended, provides archeologists and law enforcement with tools to protect archeological resources on public lands and Indian lands. These tools include:

  • Clear language, such as the definition of an “archeological resource,” that makes ARPA enforceable (16 U.S.C. §470bb).
  • Requirements that must be met prior to a Federal land manager issuing a permit for archeological investigation (16 U.S.C. §470cc).
  • Authority to promulgate regulations regarding collections and their disposition (16 U.S.C. §470dd).
  • Identification of specific prohibited activities and criminal penalties for unpermitted activities (16 U.S.C. §470ee), assessment of civil penalties (16 U.S.C. §470ff), and enforcement (16 U.S.C. §470gg).
  • Prohibition of 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 (16 U.S.C. §470gg).
  • Prohibition of public disclosure of sensitive information, specifically the nature and location of archeological resources (16 U.S.C. §470hh).
  • Authority to promulgate uniform rules and regulations for the Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Defense, as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority (16 U.S.C. §470hh).
  • Direction to each Federal land manager to establish a public awareness program of the significance of archaeological resources on public lands and Indian lands and the need to protect such resources (16 U.S.C. §470hh).
  • Coordination and communication with and between private individuals to share information about their archeological resources collected before enactment of ARPA, Federal authorities managing archeological resources on public lands and Indian lands, and professional archeologists and associations of professional archeologists (16 U.S.C. §470jj).
  • A report submitted by the Secretary of the Interior to Congress on ARPA activities and recommendations for changes or improvements (16 U.S.C. §470ll). (Note that the section that required submission of an annual report was struck out by Pub. L. 104–333 and repealed and reinstated as section 312504 of Title 54, National Park Service and Related Programs, by Pub. L. 113–287, §§3, 7, Dec. 19, 2014, 128 Stat. 3094, 3272).
  • Requirement for Interior, Agriculture, Defense, and the Tennessee Valley Authority develop and carry out surveys of archeological resources on their lands and develop documents to report on violations of ARPA (16 U.S.C. §470mm).

What is the significance and impact of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act?
ARPA led to overall improvements in and coordination of the management of archeological resources on public lands. These have come about through the clearer language, direction to improve the inventory of known sites, attention to archeological collections, and opportunities to coordinate across federal, state, tribe and private stakeholders. Knowledge of what archeological resources are on public lands, and where, provides Federal land managers with a baseline for assessing impacts and evaluating change. As a result, Federal law officers and courts regularly prosecute ARPA cases and assign penalties.

In the National Park Service alone, ARPA cases have been successfully prosecuted at Ozark National Scenic Riverway in 2019, Fort Yellowstone Cemetery in Yellowstone National Park in 2021, and Buffalo National River in 2021. Violators are aware of ARPA and, while violations continue, those who are caught can face significant impacts. Excavating or trafficking in archeological resources carries a potential penalty of up to two years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, and one year of supervised release. Injury or depredation to United States Property carries a penalty of not more than ten years imprisonment, up to a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. Equipment used in the crime, such as metal detectors and vehicles, can also be confiscated. These potential penalties constitute a strong deterrent, which was the intent of ARPA.

ARPA was the third law – after the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 – to address the management of archeological collections. Of the three, it had the most significant impact. ARPA specifies federal ownership of objects excavated from Federal lands, and lays out requirements for permits for archeological investigations that include planning for the disposition and management of collections. It furthermore authorizes the development of regulations regarding curation of archeological collections. These regulations, which affect all Federally owned or administered archeological collections, are 36 CFR 79, “Curation of Federally Owned or Administered Archeological Collections".

ARPA can be and is used in conjunction with a number of other statues that assist in the prosecution of cultural resource crimes, including but not limited to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, National Historic Preservation Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Embezzlement and Theft (18USC641), Destruction of Government Property (aka. Malicious Mischief) (18USC1361), Embezzlement and Theft from Indian Tribal Organizations (18USC1163), Conspiracy to Commit Offense or Defraud the States (18USC371), and a number of laws found in the Code of Federal Regulations. Definitions and monetary thresholds will vary from statute to statute. However, ARPA provides the clearest pathway to prosecution, criminally or civilly, of a cultural resource crime.

What are the citations for the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and its regulations?
ARPA is found in public law at Pub. L. 96–95, §2, 93 Stat 721 and in the U.S. Code at 16 U.S.C. 470aa through 470mm, as amended. ARPA has been amended four times: 1988 (Pub. L. 100-555, §14; 119 Stat. 499 and Pub. L. 100-588, §1(c)) §1(d), 102 Stat. 2983), 1994 (Pub. L. 103–437, § 6(d)(30); 108 Stat. 4583), 1996 (Pub. L. 104–333, div. I, title VIII, § 814(d)(2)(A); 110 Stat. 4196), and 2014 (Pub. L. 113–287, §§ 3, 7; 128 Stat. 3094, 3272).

The implementing regulations for ARPA are 43 C.F.R. §3[MT10] , “Preservation of American Antiquities” and 43 C.F.R. §7, “Protection of Archaeological Resources". Federal agencies have promulgated the following uniform regulations: Department of the Interior, 43 C.F.R. §7 (1993); Department of Agriculture, 36 C.F.R. §296 (1993); Department of Defense, 32 C.F.R. §229 (1993); Tennessee Valley Authority, 18 C.F.R. §1312 (1992); and Army Corps of Engineers, ER 405-1-71. In order to accommodate the repatriation or disposition requirements of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the ARPA regulations dealing with custody and ownership of archeological collections were amended in 1995 (see 43 CFR §7.13).

For More Information
Learn the Law: The Archaeological Resources Protection Act

Archeology Program. NPS Archeology Guide: Permits for Archeological Investigations. Washington, DC: National Park Service.

Friedman, J. L., editor.1985. "A History of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act: Laws and Regulations." American Archeology 5(2):82-119.

McAllister, Martin E. 2007. Technical Brief 20: Archeological Resource Damage Assessment: Legal Basis and Methods. Washington D.C.: DOI Departmental Consulting Archeologist/NPS Archeology Program.

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

Last updated: January 12, 2023