Friday, May 30, 2008

Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979

“AN ACT To protect archaeological resources on public lands and Indian lands, and for other purposes.”

It’s that “other purposes” line that will get you every time!

For those of you that hunt on or even near federal public lands or Indian lands you should acquaint yourself with this federal law. This particular law does not seem to apply to those of us looking for buried money but then again, I’m no lawyer and some suit working for Uncle Sam may see things differently.

According to Section 12 of this Act, subsection “b” says that “nothing in this Act applies to, or requires a permit for, the collection for private purposes of any rock, coin, bullet, or mineral which is not an archaeological resource, as determined under uniform regulations promulgated under section 3(1)”. Doesn’t that make you feel so much better?

In short, the Archeological Resources Protection Act 1979 or ARPA 1979, says that anything 100 years old or older found on public or Indian lands could be considered an archeological resource. Removing any of those resources could put you in jeopardy of some pretty severe criminal and civil penalties that range from one to five years in prison and fines up to $100,000.00. Ouch!

Supposedly this act does not cover the finding of arrowheads that “are laying on top of the ground” or “non-fossilized and fossilized pale-ontological specimens, or any portion or piece thereof” as long as they are not found in “an archaeological context”, what ever that means. I’m sure that if you were to ask two archeologists and two government suits the definition of “archeological context” you would probably get four completely different answers.

I personally know of at least one person who found some of those “fossilized pale-ontological specimens” that were off by themselves with no “archeological context” and when he reported the specimens, dinosaur bones, they were quickly scooped up by the archies, never to be seen again with no benefit to the man who found them.

The act is pretty specific about certain things that shouldn’t be looked for or messed with on public lands. Those items include “pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, human skeletal materials, or any portion or piece of any of the foregoing items”. For the most part I would agree with the purpose of this Act but I always fear how certain things will be used by an over zealous bureaucrat. And there is always one of those around somewhere!

The Act does say that permits can be applied for and supposedly issued to individuals who wish to hunt these archeological resources but if you know anything about archeology then you know to get a permit will probably take some pretty good credentials.

It would seem that if you are hunting treasure and come across a carving left by the Spanish or an outlaw more than 100 years ago (I know, Duh??) then this carving would be covered under the ARPA 1979. Now normally there would be no need to harm a carving and I would say you should never harm a carving but that over zealous bureaucrat might consider chalking or pouring water on a carving to photograph it “harm” so you should be very careful of this. I would also say that if you are hunting Spanish treasure and are opening a tunnel you have at least a 20% chance of running across a skeleton or two. Again, I’m all for the archies doing their thing, especially if the bones turn out to be Native American, but I’m sure if I notified the archies of some bones in a tunnel, the bones would be the ONLY thing in the tunnel when the archies got there and those bones would have been the only thing I saw.

If you want to make yourself more familiar with this Act you can find it here:

I should point out that this Act has no bearing on anything found on private lands but there are a few other laws out there that might, so do your homework!

1 comment:

frodvr said...

I’m sure that if you were to ask two archeologists and two government suits the definition of “archeological context” you would probably get four completely different answers.

I would have to disagree. Archaeological context has a very defined and set understanding in the Archaeological world. I can't say the same for the Law world, however, any good lawyer would ask an Archaeologist what it meant before going after someone. The idea behind an artifact needed to stay in the Archaeological context is that when someone brings us a "gun" or "arrow head" from a hole they dug, all we can say at best is what type of gun it is, or what type of arrow head it is. We can't date the object to the site because we do that by looking at stratigraphy in the ground at the layer it was found. We can also date the soil using chemical tests where the object was found, but once it has been removed it is no longer in the "context" it was currently in. By leaving the artifacts in their "context" you do not destroy all the important information that comes with that artifact. By only having the artifact, you have maybe 2% of the information. We don't know so much about a site just from the objects we find but where these objects are found in relationship to other objects. This is context.

There wouldn't be any "real" archaeologist that would say anything else. Granted the wording might be different, but the idea is the same. By digging artifacts out of the ground, though a fun hobby, you destroy the majority of information that rests with that artifact and how it relates to other artifacts around it.

I hope this might help explain what the "context" means.

Derek Fronabarger