Object Identification

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

Do you have an object that you'd like identified?

The Burke Museum specializes in artifacts and objects from the Pacific Northwest region and collections staff respond to identification requests on a time-available basis. Please note that we will not appraise your object nor authenticate items for sale.

To better help identify your object, you should have as much of the following information available as possible when you contact the Burke. If the object was given to you by a family member, it might be a good idea to do a short interview with them keeping these questions in mind.

  1. Where was it found? Knowing where an object was found can greatly increase the chances that the Burke will be able to help you identify it. You should be as precise as possible; even knowing general information, such as whether it came from a beach or a field, can be really helpful. If you are able to provide a map or an address where the artifact was found this is often very helpful. 
     
  2. When was it found? For cultural artifacts, this can help us determine whether or not there are any legal issues with which you should be concerned.
     
  3. Do you have a photo of the object? Photos provide us an opportunity to do some preliminary research. Photos should always be taken with some sort of scale (a ruler is best, but even a common object such as a U.S. coin can help). You can upload images to our online form listed below.

Questions & Answers

The Burke Museum specializes in objects and specimens from the Pacific Northwest.

Please note: We do not currently have an archaeologist specializing in the Southwest or Mesoamerica on staff. However, we are happy to get you in contact with specialists who can help.

The Burke Museum does not provide written certificates of authenticity or valuation (appraisals), nor opinions on the monetary value of objects for the general public. The public is welcome to contact the American Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of America or the International Society of Appraisers for assistance.

If the site you are concerned about is on your property there are a few things you should do. First, limit impacts to the site. Don’t call attention to the site or tell too many people about it. This decreases the chance of looting at the site.

If it is an archaeological site, report it to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP). The site can then be recorded, with the landowner’s permission, and will add to the general archaeological knowledge about our region. Be sure to inquire about incentives such as tax breaks that are available to land owners. For more information about protecting your site see the information on site stewardship provided by the DAHP.

If the site you are concerned about is not on your property, please contact us and we can help you communicate your concerns to the appropriate legal official. State, federal, and tribal properties for the most part already have people working to protect sites on their property. However, they are often in charge of large regions and thus always appreciate it when the public aids in site stewardship. If you believe that an archaeological site on private property is being destroyed it is appropriate to communicate this information to the DAHP as soon as possible.

If you happen to come across an artifact on a property other than your own you should leave the artifact where it is. It is illegal to remove artifacts from land you do not own, both public and private. We recommend that if you have a camera handy that you photograph the object in place and the area around it. If possible, take a GPS coordinate or draw a detailed map of where the artifact can be found. Then contact the Burke Museum or the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to report your find.

If you found this artifact on State, Tribal, or Federal lands you should contact the land manager and ask to speak to a cultural resource specialist. If you are confused about whom the appropriate land management agency might be the Burke Museum is happy to help you locate this information. It is also appropriate to contact the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to report your find. If you find an artifact on private property that you do not own you should inform the landowner. Your find may contribute greatly to our knowledge of the region!

If you inadvertently come across human remains on your property or elsewhere, stop your activities in the area immediately. It is against the law to knowingly disturb a human burial.

The Burke Museum is happy to help facilitate the transfer of human remains to the appropriate Native American Tribe, or provide guidance on this process. However, there are both federal and state laws that govern the recovery of human remains. For this reason if you find human remains of any kind in Washington State, you are required by law to notify the county coroner and local law enforcement by calling 911. This is a necessary step in order to allow the medical examiner to determine whether or not they are human, and whether or not they are Native American. The discovery of human remains is first treated as a crime scene in order to rule out any recent criminal activities.

There are a number of laws in place that protect human burials. On public property (including federal and tribal land) the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) provides guidelines for protecting Native American graves. On state and private lands, the Washington State Indian Graves and Records Act makes it is a felony to knowingly disturb an Indian grave.

If you have any questions about human remains please do not hesitate to contact the Archaeology NAGPRA Collections Assistant, Glenys Ong, at 206.685.3849.

ZIP/Postal Code where you live
Please note: The Burke Museum specializes in artifacts from the Pacific Northwest. 
Please photograph the object with a pencil, ruler, or something that can give a sense of its size.
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Reach out to your local Tribe

We encourage you to continue your learning of Native American cultures by reaching out to your local Tribe for more resources.