Archaeology Law and Ethics

The field of archaeology is among the most respected and important professions out there and the reason for that is the contribution that the people in this field provide in the discovering of priceless artefacts from the past. It is extremely important to be well aware of the different laws and ethics that are observed in this field so that you can be of maximum help to the archaeological community. There are two different levels of implementations when it comes to the law and the first one is the national law which is applicable all over the United States of America in equal terms. The second one however is the state law and since every state has its own legislative system too, the laws differ from one state to another quite often. Each and every one of these laws is equally important in the preservation of the archaeological sites and therefore, they have all been discussed here in a brief and comprehensive manner. To find out more about these laws and the ethics that are followed in the field of archaeology, keep reading.

National Laws

The United States government is very keen on making sure that the historical discoveries made by archaeological activities around the country are kept safe and secure. For that reason, several different laws have been passed over the history to provide the sites with the required protection. These laws include:

  • Antiquities Act (1906): Passed more than a hundred years ago, this law is the biggest of all when it comes to protecting the national archaeological treasures of the United States. Under this law, it is the responsibility of the federal agencies to make sure that these areas are provided proper protection and no looting or vandalism occurs here.
  • Historic Sites Act (1935): This is another law that aims at protecting different sites, buildings, sites and objects of historic value all over the USA and the agencies involved in its caretaking are to protect and also maintain these sites.

Some other national laws for protecting such sites include the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act (1974) and Archaeological Resources Protection Act (1979).

State Laws

The laws regarding the protection and preservation of archaeological sites at the state level vary from state to state. However, each state has a very strict and refined set of rules and executive orders that are aimed at protecting the archaeological treasures that may fall under that state’s jurisdiction. An example of such laws can be the many laws declared by the state of Washington for the preservation and protection of its archaeological sites and treasures. These laws include the authority that the state has on new findings like the requirement of a permit for excavation (WAC 25-48) and the monitoring of the archaeological sites and resources (RCW 27.53). These laws are implemented strictly and any violation of these laws results in very serious repercussions for the culprits.


Respecting the sanctity of any protected site is not only covered by the law, it is also a social responsibility of all the visitors as law abiding citizens who respect the value of these places. In order to make sure that the sites are properly treated by its visitors and no laws are violated by anyone, the relevant authorities have devised fully detailed guidelines for the visitors so that they understand the rules that apply to the use of such sites. In addition to that, the authorities involved in the preservation and protection of these sites also keep on reviewing their policies and the changes in the environment to figure out how they affect the sites. As a result of that, they are able to properly deal with all the problems that may arise due to changes in the legislation etc.

International Issues

A lot of different issues have been coming up recently around the world where the involvement of the United States government has resulted in the loss and looting of historic artefacts. One example of such an incident is the looting that occurred in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2003 which happened during the invasion of US forces on Iraq. Other incidents where archaeological sites were damaged due to the US military activity were also recorded and funding was provided for the restoration of these sites and fragments. In the recent years, the US military forces have been working with archaeologists to understand and develop the ability to recognize historical artefacts to avoid any damage to it.

Protection of archaeological sites and historical ruins is a very important thing and if you want to find out more about the archaeological activities in the USA, you can visit the website of Society for American Archaeology.