Archaeological Sites and Artifacts
WHAT IS AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL ARTIFACT AND SITE?
Archaeological artifacts are objects made or used by humans. Examples of artifacts include pottery, baskets, bottles, cans, weapons, arrowheads, tools, rock paintings, and carvings. Archaeological sites are locations utilized by humans. Examples include camping locations, housing structures, food processing, fire hearths, hunting structures, defense structures, and shelters. Artifacts and sites usually work together to tell the story of past peoples. Historic sites and artifacts are anything older than 50 years.
TRASH OR ARCHAEOLOGICAL ARTIFACT?
By definition archaeological artifacts are any human object older than 50 years. Most artifacts are what we modern humans would define as “trash,” something discarded or left behind. While cleaning up trash and leaving places where we hike or camp cleaner than we found them is an admirable pursuit, cleaning up historic “trash” can result is damaging the context and value of our history record. The importance of historic “trash” can only be accurately assessed by a trained archaeologist. If you you have any questions about the age of the “trash” you intend to clean up, error on the side of caution and leave suspected historic material in place.
Archaeological sites and artifacts on the public lands throughout North America provide evidence for the continuing story of human occupation spanning at least 23,000 years. For Native peoples, these "artifacts" are a contemporary, integral component of their present cultural landscape. Our public lands are a vault filled with historical and cultural artifacts, each containing irreplaceable information about our past, present and future. Please treat any archaeological site or artifact you discover as you would treat an item in a museum. Observe, enjoy, photograph, and indulge in the wonder of our rich American history. If you do share or post photographs, however, remove any GPS information imbedded in the photo to help protect the artifacts and sites from removal or damage.
CONTEXT- Leave It Where You Find it
The value of archaeological sites and artifacts lies as much in the context of the item as it does in item itself. The location, the depth of burial, orientation, and any chemical residue can tell a much deeper story of the ancient people than the artifact itself. Digging, moving, handling, and removing archaeological items erases critical information that will be lost forever. Artifacts also tell the story of how the landscape was used. Moving the artifacts out of context destroys the story of the site. When you discover an artifact, become curious. Ask yourself: Why is this here? Did these people move through or did they live here? What other resources are nearby- animals, water, plant foods, shelter? Does this location provide an overview or a place to hide? These are the most important questions archaeologist ask. The context of the artifact provides the widescreen, technicolor details of the lives of people who passed this way before us. Archeological sites and artifacts are part of our shared past. Leaving artifacts and sites undisturbed will assure future generations will continue to have the experience and wonder we experience when we find traces of our human past on our American public lands. Collecting artifacts, including arrowheads, from public or tribal lands is a Federal crime.
Ancient architecture is fragile. Do not sit, walk, or climb on walls or other structures.
Do not touch, alter, or move petroglyph or pictograph panels.
Do not stack rocks or leave geocaches or other traces of your presence.
Do not share site locations on social media. Remember that GPS coordinates may be embedded in your digital photos.
Engage in recreational activities AWAY from archaeological sites.
Dogs and Archaeology do not mix. To prevent digging and erosion, please keep pets leashed pets and keep them away from archaeological sites.
THE NATIVE AMERICAN CONNECTION
Many Native American peoples and cultures look at history and the landscape differently than most modern Americans. For Native Americans, history is intricately intertwined and embedded in the past, present, and the future. Ancestral native cultures did not divide the earth into home and wild. This American earth is their home. Living in western North America in the pre-industrial era required a nomadic life style, moving not just seasonally between resources, but moving in decadal and even century-long cycles to follow the transient changes in shifting ecosystems across the arid west. Native Americans were the first climate change observers. The habitation structures and tools left behind during these nomadic wanderings were not abandoned and are neither relics nor ruins of a bygone era. They were purposefully left behind and cached so the people could return when future conditions brought a return of the resources they needed for their life ways. What we call “archaeological artifacts and sites” are the living continuity of the past, present, and future of Native Americas. Native Americans are here for the long run. Their traditions, knowledge, and histories are told by the landscape and with the cultural objects they placed there. Taking Native American objects, of any age, from public lands is equivalent to burglary and looting. Learn more about Indigenous connections with American Public Land here.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED IN ARCHAEOLOGY?
There are many ways to learn about and become involved with archaeology on public lands. You can join a field project through Passport in Time, a U.S. Forest Service and BLM volunteer archaeology and historic preservation program (www.passportintime.com). You can become a site steward. These volunteers receive training to help BLM archaeologists protect artifacts in the vast “outdoor museum” on BLM public lands. You will learn about cultural history and archaeology. The training focuses on field techniques, surveying, mapping, compass use, and important safety issues. Site stewards keep an eye on archaeological sites that are in danger of vandalism or natural deterioration. You can also contact local stewardship organizations like the Nevada Rock Art Foundation (www.nvrockart.org), Nevada Site Stewardship Program , and Friends of Nevada Wilderness.