Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974

The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act (known also as the Moss-Bennett Act, the Archaeological Recovery Act, or the Archaeological Data Preservation Act) (AHPA) was signed into law on May 24, 1974. AHPA is a salvage bill. It addresses the preservation of historical and archeological data that might otherwise be lost or destroyed through federally funded or licensed activities or programs.

Why was the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act enacted?
The Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960 addressed archeological resources endangered by reservoir projects and concerned only the federal agencies, mainly the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, carrying out those projects. Other federal agencies, however, funded or licensed construction that also threatened archeological resources. Archeologists rallied for Congress to expand the scope of the Reservoir Salvage Act to include any federal agency whose work might affect archeological resources, and to fund archeological salvage.

What did the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act do?
AHPA applies to all federal agencies, including loan and grant agencies. It requires them to preserve historic and archeological objects and materials that would otherwise be lost or destroyed as a result of their projects or licensed activities or programs.

AHPA provides the Secretary of the Interior with the authority to:

  • Assist federal agencies, private organizations, or individuals with meeting the requirements of AHPA if a project is expected to result in the loss or destruction of significant scientific, historical, or archeological data.
  • Undertake studies independent of, and in consultation with, the federal agency responsible for the project.
  • Consult about the ownership and appropriate repositories for artifacts and other remains uncovered by investigations conducted under AHPA.
  • Compile a report to Congress on archeological survey and recovery activities.

Significantly, AHPA authorizes federal agencies to transfer up to 1% of the total amount authorized for the project to the Secretary of the Interior for archeological salvage. In 1980, Section 208 of Public Law 96-515 provided a means by which agencies could obtain a waiver of the 1% limit with the concurrence of the Secretary of the Interior and the notification of Congress. The Departmental Consulting Archeologist is delegated the review and concurrence of any 1% waiver requests for the Secretary.

What is the significance and impact of the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act?
The AHPA built upon the Historic Sites Act of 1935, which established historic preservation to be national policy. AHPA made clear that all federal agencies should take into account the impact of their projects on archeological resources and are authorized to fund archeological investigations, reports, and activities. AHPA, furthermore, does not provide an alternative to doing archeological recovery. As a result, the law strengthened the national historic preservation program by underscoring the responsibility of federal agencies to address archeological resources in projects they fund or license.

Another effect is that AHPA greatly expanded the authority, responsibilities, and funding of the Interagency Archeological Salvage Program, which was housed in the National Park Service. In 1973, the NPS Division of Anthropology and Archeology was divided into two parts. The Division would handle only internal (National Park Service) programs, whereas the Interagency Archeological Services Division would address external (interagency) archeological programs. Field offices were established around the U.S. to manage the projects.

What are the citations for the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act?
AHPA was originally located in public law at P.L. Law 93-291 and in the U.S. Code at 16 U.S.C. §§ 469-469c. In 2014, AHPA was incorporated into P.L. 113–287 and 54 U.S.C. §§ 312501-312508.

For More Information
Davis, Hester. 1972. “The Crisis in American Archeology.” Science 175:267-272.

Keel, Bennie C., Francis P. McManamon, and George S. Smith. 1989. Federal Archeology: The Current Program. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, Department of the Interior.

McGimsey, Charles R. 1985. "’This, Too, Will Pass’: Moss-Bennett in Perspective.” American Antiquity 50(2):326-331.

McManamon, Francis P. 2000. "Archeological and Historic Preservation Act (AHPA)," In Archaeological Method and Theory: An Encyclopedia, edited by Linda Ellis. New York and London: Garland Publishing Co.

Last updated: January 12, 2023