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Archeological Resources Protection

A cliff dwelling showing stacked adobe bricksU.S. Forest Service personnel are trained in archeological investigation and the subsequent prosecution of the crimes.

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, also referred to as ARPA, is a Federal law passed in 1979 and amended in 1988. It governs the excavation of archaeological sites on Federal and Indian lands in the United States, and the removal and disposition of archaeological collections from those sites. The Act aims to secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites on Federal and tribal lands. These resources are considered an irreplaceable part of the nation’s heritage.

Native American waresThe Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a Federal law passed in 1990. NAGPRA provides a process for museums and Federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items -- human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony -- to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. NAGPRA includes provisions for unclaimed and culturally unidentifiable Native American cultural items, intentional and inadvertent discovery of Native American cultural items on Federal and tribal lands, and penalties for noncompliance and illegal trafficking.

Petroglyphs carved into a rock. The remains of prehistoric and historic cultures are a part of our heritage. When artifacts are stolen and archaeological sites are destroyed, we lose important clues about the past, forever. Strict laws protect artifacts and sites on state and Federal and Native American lands. Report violations to your local law enforcement or land management agency.

Public lands across the United States hold an extraordinary record of the past. Rock shelters, cliff dwellings, pithouse villages, pueblos, incredible rock art, and the remains of historic homesteads, historic mines, logging railroads, and ghost towns are but a few of the wonders that await your discovery. Today, however, this remarkable heritage is increasingly threatened by looters and vandals.

You Can Help Protect The Past

  • Petroglyphs carved into a rock. Report looting and vandalism to Federal land management authorities or your local sheriff.
  • Encourage others to be stewards of the past by your example.
  • Treat remains of past cultures with respect.
  • Tread lightly when visiting archaeological sites.
  • Leave artifacts in place
  • Photograph, sketch and enjoy rock art, but do not touch ancient surfaces or designs
  • Get involved in preserving the past by volunteering your time and talents. Contact your local land managing agency, archaeological society, or state Historic Preservation office

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