Burke Museum Home

Archy Laws Explanation


Where was your artifact found?

Unknown
Unfortunately, many artifacts have been removed from the ground without recording their provenience (the site where they were found). Without this information artifacts lose the majority of their scientific value since the context of an artifact (where it was found, how deep it was found, what it was found with) provides the means for answering questions about past human behavior. Without provenience most artifacts become little more than pretty objects, although the Burke Museum does sometimes accept such objects as donations to use in educational settings.

If you have any artifacts with known provenience, make an effort to write down on a piece of paper where and when the artifacts were found and keep this information with the objects. This way you can prevent your artifacts from becoming unprovenienced!

Back to Laws Flow Chart


Outside the United States
To determine if your artifact is legal you should consider the laws governing artifact collection, sale, and export from the country of origin as well as the laws that govern the import of artifact into the United States.

Laws governing the collection and exportation of artifacts are different for every country in the world. In many European countries the government owns all of the cultural resources found within the country’s boundaries. This means that all artifacts, even those found on private property, are owned by the state and their purchase is illegal.

The exportation of artifacts from a given country usually involves some form of permitting. If the artifact is already in the United States it is often too late to apply for a permit, but it is worth searching for “cultural resources” or “cultural property” on the appropriate government website for more information.

The importation of artifacts into the United States is governed by the U.S. State Department. To learn about U.S. and international laws that govern the transport of cultural resources into the United States go to the U.S. State Department website on International Cultural Property Protection.

Some of the most important international treaties created to manage the trade of antiquities have been created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). To learn more about this work go to the UNESCO: World Heritage Center. Another good resource for learning about import and export agreements is through the organization SAFE: Saving Antiquities for Everyone.

Back to Laws Flow Chart

 

Within Washington State (Private Property)

In the State of Washington archaeological sites are protected, even those on private property. Since 1974 it has been illegal to knowingly disturb archaeological sites or resources on private or public property without a permit from the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP). The 1974 Archaeological Sites and Resources law protects all prehistoric sites and any historic properties abandoned for more than 30 years. Civil penalties as well as the costs necessary to investigate and restore the disturbed archaeological site can be imposed and any resulting artifacts can be seized.

Private land owner have a number of rights. Artifacts that are legally discovered on their property (either as individual finds or as part of a legally permitted archaeological survey or dig) belong to the land owner. Archaeological sites discovered on private property cannot be legally registered without the permission of the landowner. If the private property owner chooses to register their site there are incentives available to the landowner such as tax breaks, easements, and open space designations.

Since 1941 all bones and artifacts within Native American graves and unmarked burials have been protected. The 1941 Indian Graves and Records law prohibits knowingly disturbing graves and makes such activities a class C felony. This law also prevents the sale of any grave goods or human remains removed from such graves. The inadvertent disturbance of graves requires reburial with the supervision of the appropriate Indian tribe.

The full list of Washington State laws affecting archaeological resources is available through the WA DAHP website

Back to Laws Flow Chart

 

Outside Washington State (Private Property)
Private property laws, and the laws governing the archaeological resources within them, are different for each state. If you are unsure of the laws governing the state where your artifacts were found you should contact the appropriate state agency. Consult the list of members of the National Association of State Archaeologists (NASA) to find the appropriate state websites and contact information.

Back to Laws Flow Chart

 

Washington State Property
Since 1974 it has been illegal to knowingly disturb archaeological sites or resources on private or public property without a permit from the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP). The 1974 Archaeological Sites and Resources law protects all prehistoric sites and any historic properties abandoned for more than 30 years. Civil penalties as well as the costs necessary to investigate and restore the disturbed archaeological site can be imposed and any resulting artifacts can be seized. 

If you find an artifact on Washington State land, you should leave it in place and notify the appropriate state official. If you have an artifact found on state land, it should be returned to the appropriate authorities with as much information about where it was collected as possible. The Archaeology Public Outreach Program coordinator is happy to help members of the public return artifacts that were inadvertently removed from state property.

Since 1941 all bones and artifacts within Native American graves and unmarked burials have been protected. The 1941 Indian Graves and Records law prohibits knowingly disturbing graves and makes such activities a class C felony. This law also prevents the sale of any grave goods or human remains removed from such graves. The inadvertent disturbance of graves requires reburial with the supervision of the appropriate Indian tribe. 

The full list of Washington State laws affecting archaeological resources is available through the WA DAHP website

Back to Laws Flow Chart

 

Federal Property
There are many laws that protect archaeological sites on federal property. Below is a list of relevant laws with short discussions of each. Federal land includes property owned by the National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, National Forest Service, and Tribal lands among others. If you believe you may have an artifact from federal property the Archaeology Public Outreach Program coordinator is happy to help you get in contact with the appropriate federal agencies.

Since the Antiquities Act of 1906 it has been illegal to remove antiquities from federal land without a permit from the Interior Secretary. The rationale behind this law is to obligate federal agencies to manage public lands for the public, in order to preserve for present and future generations the historic, scientific, commemorative, and cultural values of the archaeological and historic sites and structures on these lands.

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) provided more explicit guidelines for the enforcement of such illegal activities by banning the unauthorized excavation, removal, damage, alteration, or defacement of archaeological resources from public or Indian lands, and the trafficking in any archaeological resources that were wrongfully acquired. This law is enforceable on both Federal and Indian land for sites and artifacts that are at least 100 years old and provides civil penalties for disturbance of these sites and the sale and transport of any resulting materials.

In 1988 the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act (ASA) made it illegal to disturb any abandoned shipwrecks in U.S. submerged lands that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, making the wrecks and their contents property of the U.S. government and therefore protected under federal law. 

In 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed to create definitions and procedures for the disposition or repatriation of culturally affiliated Native American, Native Hawaiian, and Native Alaskan human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony that were removed from tribal or federal lands after 1990, and those held by federal agencies or museums that receive federal funds. If you believe that you have a funerary object or human remains please do not hesitate to contact the Archaeology Department NAGPRA Coordinator, Megon Noble, for assistance. 

The full list of Federal laws affecting archaeological resources is available through the WA DAHP website

Back to Laws Flow Chart