Archaeology today deals with complex issues in which the value of the human past is constantly questioned. The initial question is how do we approach any site containing evidence of past human activity? Once found, how do laws and ethics shape the way we deal with the site?

The examples in this project are just a selection that highlights the basic questions of ethics and legality that arise at every level of archaeology-- be it in urban development, museum exhibitions, or burial sites.

The first ethical issue that arises is the conflict between contemporary expanding cities and the remains of past societies. This conflict stems from the debate over which society takes precedence-- should past cultures simply be the ground upon which we build our modern day cities or should we protect these sites so that we can learn from these cultures about our common past? Civic involvement, such as the protests at the Miami Circle and City Hall, as well as practicing responsible archaeology is the key to making the laws work.

Another issue that deals with ethics in archaeology is the display and exhibition of found artifacts in museum collections. Until recently, museums were hailed as the storehouse of the human past. However, recent conflicts over the ownership of art and artifacts have amended this past conception. Who owns the artifacts and who has the right to display them: the archaeologist, the treasure hunter or the tribe/ culture to which the artifact belongs? While there is no clear answer, laws such as NAGPRA have attempted to resolve some pressing issues as well as call into question the sanctity of the museum.

The third major issue addressed in this project is the rise of laws in delegating to whom the artifacts belong. When a case like Slack Farm is cited, there is a very obvious need for a law like NAGPRA to stop unmethodical and destructive looting. The Kennewick Man shows that laws are not just enacted and then dismissed so archaeologists could practice in whatever manner they want, but rather Kennewick Man shows that archaeological laws are one of the most essential aspects to the field as a whole.
Archaeology has tremendous value if used properly as a tool that helps us learn about our past and better prepare for our future. Laws and codes of ethics are enacted to ensure that this possibly invasive research be carried out in a way that is sensitive to the artifacts and creates a basic code of formal ethical behavior to guide archaeologists. In these cases, the laws and ethics are as important as ever and knowledge of these laws and ethics are essential for archaeologists, old and new.