Archaeology Law & Ethics

Metal Detecting
National Laws
State Laws
International Issues
Advocacy Organizations


"The remains of prehistoric
and historic cultures
belong to all of us.

When artifacts are stolen and
archaeological sites are destroyed,
we lose important clues about the past
 -- forever!

View the full poster image here...

Courtesy of the Florida Department of State
Bureau of Archaeological Research.


Metal Detecting

These pages contain information you need to know about metal detecting in archaeology, including the laws, participants, and more.

SAA 2014 Task Force on Reality TV and Metal Detecting


At the request of then SAA President Jeff Altschul, Task Force Chair Giovanna Peebles convened the SAA Task Force on Reality TV and Metal Detecting, composed of individuals with relevant and extensive experience and knowledge.  The task force's report stresses the need for ongoing respectful and productive collaboration among archaeologists, metal detectorists, and the media, to create better TV programming over time.  The task force concluded that the SAA and its members must embrace a vigorous ethic and corresponding actions of public engagement. Those actions must be reciprocal and must build bonds with the many non-professionals, such as metal dectorists, who value the past. We must earn and keep the respect of those who might participate with us in our important work. The task force concurred with American Antiquity Editor Ken Sassaman’s (2014: 383) statement that "We would do well to define our profession not by how many degrees and publications we accumulate, but by how many citizens we recruit to ensure that future citizens can learn from and enjoy the past as much as we do today." 


Task Force Report As Submitted to the SAA Board, March 2014.


Archaeological Practice and Reality TV

A theme issue of The SAA Archaeological Record, March 2015, Vol. 15 #2.



Giovanna M. Peebles. Reality Television and Metal Detecting. Let's Be Part of the Solution and Not Add to the Problem. The SAA Archaeological Record, March 2015, Vol. 15 # 2. Pages 30 - 34.


National Laws

The Antiquities Act 1906-2006
      (NPS Archeology Program/Center for Cultural Resources)
President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, establishing the first general legal protection of cultural and natural resources in the United States. In 2006, the centennial commemoration of the Antiquities Act marks an important step in the preservation
and protection of archeological resources. This National Park Service web feature discusses the significance of the Antiquities Act, its notable accomplishments, and the continuing efforts to protect the nation's archeological heritage. It also includes an interactive map of National Monuments and a list of centennial activities.

NPS Links to the Past: Laws, Regulations, and Guidelines
Review the laws and policies affecting federal archeology and preservation on this site from NPS Cultural Resources. Another good NPS overview about laws and ethics is located here.

State Laws

We are still adding content for this section, but in the meantime, here is a useful link to some information about state laws:

Indiana strengthens historic preservation and archaeology law- Changes were recently made by the Indiana General Assembly to Indiana Code (IC) 14-21-1 in House Enrolled Act 1129.  To read about these amendments, signed into law by the Governor on March 3rd, go to   A number of the changes, which took effect July 1, 2008, directly affect those who are involved in archaeology:  professional and avocational archaeologists, hobbyists, as well as private landowners who encounter artifacts.          One of the important changes to the law expands the definition of "artifact" to protect artifacts and features formed before Dec. 31, 1870 rather than Dec. 11, 1816.  This will greatly increase the number and types of archaeological resources that will be protected.  The Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology ( is authorized to create an archaeological preservation trust fund to assist private homeowners who have accidentally discovered an archaeological or burial site who need assistance to comply with an approved plan to excavate or secure the site from further disturbance.  Other amendments, regarding confidentiality of archaeological records, selected cemetery issues, and more, have also been made.  To receive an updated Indiana archaeology law Question and Answer sheet, contact Amy Johnson, Indiana's state network coordinator for the Public Education Committee of the SAA, at


At its April 10, 1996 meeting, the SAA Executive Board adopted the Principles of Archaeological Ethics, as proposed by the SAA Ethics in Archaeology Committee.

Archeology Law and Ethics for the Public (National Park Service)
Before you head off on an adventure, make sure that you understand the laws protecting archeological resources on federal lands as outlined on this site from the NPS Archeology Program.

Archaeological Ethics and Law Seminar Module 
This seminar M.A.T.R.I.X. course, designed by Dr. Ricardo J. Elia (Editor of The Journal of Field Archaeology) explores the ethical, legal, and practical dimensions of archaeology as a profession -- archaeological ethics; the relationship between archaeology and others (the public, ethnic groups, avocationals, collectors, etc.), international and national approaches to archaeological heritage management, the antiquities market, maritime law, underwater archaeology, and treasure hunting, cultural resource management in the United States, and archaeological education.

 Recent News in Archaeological Ethics from the SAA

 Electronic Resources Related to Archaeological Ethics
Bibliographical resources on Antiquities Theft and Looting from the SAA Ethics Committee.

International Issues

 Thieves of Baghdad  by Mathew Bogdanos
Marine reservist and New York City assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos has written about recovering artifacts looted from the Iraq Museum after the 2003 American invasion and the Iraqi government's collapse. This stolen Iraqi archaeology is the archaeology of all our historyirreplaceable evidence of humankinds development of complex society. Book Description: A mixture of police procedural, treasure hunt, wartime thriller, and cold-eyed assessment of the connection between the antiquities trade and weapons smuggling. (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005: ISBN 1593978715)

An audio interview with Bogdanos conducted by NPRs Renee Montagne, and an excerpt of Bogdanos 2005 book (written with William Patrick), Thieves of Baghdad, is available online at NPR.

Training Soldiers to Recognize Ancient Ruins
In 2003, US soldiers impacted the site of Babylon by building a helicopter pad on the ruins of the ancient city, destroyed a 2,600-year-old brick road, and filled sandbags with archaeological fragments. Archaeologist Laurie Rush has now used Defense Department funding to reconstruct Middle Eastern archaeological ruins on one of the Army's ranges (Fort Drum). This is part of an effort to train pilots to recognize ancient ruins and cemeteries from the air. Read more about this project:

         Archaeologist Aids Army on Sensitivity
        News story by William Kates, Associated Press, Oct. 6, 2006, at CBS News On-line.

         Post archaeologist will train Soldiers to preserve historic sites
        News story by Jason B. Cutshaw, Staff Writer, Fort Drum Blizzard On-line.




Excavation of Mass Graves in Iraq
More than 400 mass graves are thought to exist in Iraq. Archaeologist Dr. Michael 'Sonny' Trimble and his forensic team have been excavating at some of these locations at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice's Regime Crimes Liaison Office. The forensic information being gathered is used as evidence in the legal trials judging allegations of genocide by the Baath Party against the Kurds in northern Iraq. Through archaeology, the voices of these victims is being heard.
Read about this important undertaking in these three articles in Esprit, a publication of the St. Louis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (where Trimble is based):



 Setting The Record Straight 
(Pages 1, 3-6)
by Alan Dooley, Esprit, January 2007, Vol. 46. No.1.

 Dr. Michael "Sonny" Trimble: Giving Voice to Iraq's Murdered Peoples 
(Pages 8-11)
by Alan Dooley, Esprit, November 2006, Vol. 45, No. 5.

 Proof Positive
(Pages 1, 3-5)
by Nicole Dalrymple, Esprit, Fall 2005, Vol. 44, No. 5.






We thank Michael 'Sonny' Trimble, Kristine Brown, and the U.S. Army Engineers District, St. Louis -- particularly Public Affairs Specialists Nicole Dalrymple and Alan Dooley -- for providing this page content.



Advocacy organizations

There are a number of organizations that work to protect our cultural heritage



Updated 9/12/2016