Archaeological Sites

Today, the single largest problem cultural resource managers face is unintentional damage caused by visitors. Sadly, impacts occur even where visitors consistently practice minimum-impact techniques. Therefore, when visiting archaeological and historical sites, minimum-impact techniques are a requirement. There can be no compromises in protecting these fragile and priceless resources.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Antiquities Protection Act of 1906 and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. The 1979 Act provides stiffer penalties, plus a reward for information that leads to a conviction. Please notify rangers or other federal land management authorities if you discover any illegal activity.

  • Keep in mind that not entering a site and viewing it from a distance will reduce the impact a site receives. People may say, “It’s just a couple of us and it’s just this one time,” but there may be thousands of people saying the same thing.
  • STOP, LOOK and THINK before entering a cultural site. Try to locate the midden area (the trash pile), so you can avoid walking on it. Middens contain important archaeological artifacts and information. They are extremely fragile, and walking over them will cause damage.
  • If a trail has been built across a site, stay on it. Foot traffic, especially on the midden, causes erosion that may undermine the walls of structures above. This is the most severe type of impact caused by continual visits to a site.
  • When you see “thousands” of potsherds and other artifacts, leave them. If each visitor took just one artifact, there would soon be none left.
  • Do not camp in or near ruins. (It is illegal to do so.) Ruins are fragile, and the less use they get, the longer they will last.
  • Moving rocks and tree branches to climb to high places destroys site integrity. Avoid touching plaster walls.
  • Enjoy rock art by viewing, sketching and photographing it. Never chalk, trace or otherwise touch rock art. Any kind of direct contact causes these ancient figures to disintegrate.
  • Creating modern “rock art” is known as vandalism and is punishable by law.
  • Never build fires in alcoves, even alcoves that don’t seem to contain archaeological remains. Sites may not be obvious.
  • Climbing on roofs and walls can destroy in a moment what has lasted for hundreds of years.
  • Cultural sites are places of ancestral importance to Native Americans and should be treated with respect.