The Laws and Ethics

While this list covers some important Federal Laws, it is by no means a comprehensive list.
Archaeological laws vary from state to state-- check with your local government for specific state and city laws.

Antiquities Act
Passed: 1906
This law states that federal officials are responsible for protecting archaeological sites as public resources as well as combating against looting and vandalism.

Natural Historic Preservation Act
Passed: 1966 (Amended 1970 and 1980)
This law called for a National register of Historic Places, including districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects which are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology and culture. This includes all local, state and national issues. It also required that an Advisory Council on Historic Preservation be created to oversee all decisions as well as protecting and using all property in the best way possible.

Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA)
Passed: 1979
This law further elaborates on the 1906 Antiquities Act. Its purpose is to protect archaeological resources on all federal and Native American lands. It both defines archaeological resources, as being at least 100 years old and of past human life or activities, and instructs how to research these resources. It also notes that it is forbidden to explore a site on Native American or American soil without a permit. If caught, a person may be punished with either a fine or jail time.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)
Passed: 1990
This law states that all agencies must keep an inventory of human remains, funerary objects, and scared objects as well as contacting any local tribes of objects in their collections or found in any site. It also allows Native American tribes to repatriate these items.

Protection and Enhancement of the Cultural Environment
Passed: 1971
This Executive Order mandates that all Executive Branch agencies, bureaus, and offices: 1) compile an inventory of the cultural resources--archaeological, architectural and historical properties, sites and districts--for which they are trustee; 2) nominate all eligible government properties to the National Register of Historic Places; 3) preserve and protect their cultural resources; and 4) insure that agency activities contribute to the preservation and protection of non-federally owned cultural resources.

Cultural Property Implementation Act
Passed: 1983
The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act enables the United States to implement the 1970 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The Act allows the United States to impose import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological or ethnological material, the pillage of which places a nation's cultural patrimony in jeopardy. The ultimate goal of this international framework of cooperation is to reduce the incentive for pillage which causes an irretrievable loss of information about our universal heritage. The U.S. was the first major art-importing country to ratify the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Department of Transportation Act
Passed: 1966
Section 4(f) of the act provides that the Secretary of Transportation:
...not approve any program or project which requires the use of...any land from an historic site of national, State or local significance the Federal, State or local officials having jurisdiction thereof unless (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of such land, and (2) such program includes all possible planning to minimize harm to such...historic site resulting from such use. This section applies to all activities of the Department of Transportation including the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration among others.

Abandoned Shipwreck Act
Passed 1987
Under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act (ASA), the U.S. Government asserted title to three categories of abandoned shipwrecks: abandoned shipwrecks embedded in a State's submerged lands; abandoned shipwrecks embedded in coralline formations protected by a State on its submerged lands; and abandoned shipwrecks located on a State's submerged lands and included in or determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Guidelines prepared to implement ASA are intended to maximize the enhancement of cultural resources;foster a partnership among sport divers, fishermen, archaeologists, salvors, and other interests to manage shipwreck resources; facilitate access and utilization by recreational interests; and recognize the interests of individuals and groups engaged in shipwreck discovery and salvage.

Code of Ethics from the Society of American Archaeologists: Adopted April 1998

Principle No. 1:
The archaeological record, that is, in situ archaeological material and sites, archaeological collections, records and reports, is irreplaceable. It is the responsibility of all archaeologists to work for the long-term conservation and protection of the archaeological record by practicing and promoting stewardship of the archaeological record. Stewards are both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people; as they investigate and interpret the record, they should use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation.

Principle No. 2:
Responsible archaeological research, including all levels of professional activity, requires an acknowledgment of public accountability and a commitment to make every reasonable effort, in good faith, to consult actively with affected group(s), with the goal of establishing a working relationship that can be beneficial to all parties involved.

Principle No. 3:
The Society for American Archaeology has long recognized that the buying and selling of objects out of archaeological context is contributing to the destruction of the archaeological record on the American continents and around the world. The commercialization of archaeological objects - their use as commodities to be exploited for personal enjoyment or profit - results in the destruction of archaeological sites and of contextual information that is essential to understanding the archaeological record. Archaeologists should therefore carefully weigh the benefits to scholarship of a project against the costs of potentially enhancing the commercial value of archaeological objects. Whenever possible they should discourage, and should themselves avoid, activities that enhance the commercial value of archaeological objects, especially objects that are not curated in public institutions, or readily available for scientific study, public interpretation, and display.

Principle No. 4:
Public Education and Outreach
Archaeologists should reach out to, and participate in cooperative efforts with others interested in the archaeological record with the aim of improving the preservation, protection, and interpretation of the record. In particular, archaeologists should undertake to: 1) enlist public support for the stewardship of the archaeological record; 2) explain and promote the use of archaeological methods and techniques in understanding human behavior and culture; and 3) communicate archaeological interpretations of the past. Many publics exist for archaeology including students and teachers; Native Americans and other ethnic, religious, and cultural groups who find in the archaeological record important aspects of their cultural heritage; lawmakers and government j reporters, journalists, and others involved in the media; and the general public. Archaeologists who are unable to undertake public education and outreach directly should encourage and support the efforts of others in these activities.

Principle No. 5:
Intellectual Property
Intellectual property, as contained in the knowledge and documents created through the study of archaeological resources, is part of the archaeological record. As such it should be treated in accord with the principles of stewardship rather than as a matter of personal possession. If there is a compelling reason, and no legal restrictions or strong countervailing interests, a researcher may have primary access to original materials and documents for a limited and reasonable time, after which these materials and documents must be made available to others.

Principle No. 6:
Public Reporting and Publication
Within a reasonable time, the knowledge of archaeologists gain from investigation of the archaeological record must be presented in accessible form (through publication or other means) to as wide a range of interested publics as possible. The documents and materials on which publication and other forms of public reporting are based should be deposited in a suitable place for permanent safekeeping. An interest in preserving and protecting in situ archaeological sites must be taken in to account when publishing and distributing information about their nature and location.

Principle No. 7:
Records and Preservation
Archaeologists should work actively for the preservation of, and long term access to, archaeological collections, records, and reports. To this end, they should encourage colleagues, students, and others to make responsible use of collections, records, and reports in their research as one means of preserving the in situ archaeological record, and of increasing the care and attention given to that portion of the archaeological record which has been removed and incorporated into archaeological collections, records, and reports.

Principle No. 8:
Training and Resources
Given the destructive nature of most archaeological investigations, archaeologists must ensure that they have adequate training, experience, facilities, and other support necessary to conduct any program of research they initiate in a manner consistent with the foregoing principles and contemporary standards of professional practice.