Etiquette at Archaeological Sites

First, here's what you SHOULD do while visiting archaeological sites...

DO ENJOY RUINS AND ROCK ART SITES. Do imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago. Do wonder why people would build their home in a precarious cliff. Do ponder how the ancients managed to carry enough stones to build that huge pueblo. Do try to figure out if that petroglyph is a man or a lizard . . . and all that fun stuff.

DO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS. Pictures are one of the best, and most harmless, ways to remember your experience. Yes, photography may be banned at some sites on Native American land (Indian reservations), but it's perfectly legal at all the sites in the second edition of my book (and all but two sites in the first edition).

DO ACKNOWLEDGE THE VALUE OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES TO LIVING NATIVE AMERICANS. Many archaeological sites still have profound cultural and religious value to living Native Americans. Some may even be burial places. Treat these places with respect and you’ll also be respecting today’s tribes.

OK, now for some important DO NOT's...

DO NOT LEAN, CLIMB OR WALK ON ANCIENT WALLS OR ROOFS. Prehistoric buildings are very fragile and can easily collapse under your weight.

DO NOT STEAL POTTERY. Doing so robs archaeologists of valuable information such as cultural affiliation and trade relationships with other groups. You’ll also rob the next hiker of the opportunity to see it.

Archaeologists obtain information not only from what they find but also from where they find it. If you visited a modern house and the stove had been moved into the living room, wouldn’t you be a bit confused as to which room served which purpose?

DO NOT TOUCH ROCK ART. Oil from human hands erodes petroglyphs and causes the delicate pigments in pictographs to disintegrate.

No matter how cool that cliff dwelling is, sleep someplace else. Many camping activities, like building fires, can harm archaeological sites.

Archaeological Sites and the Law
Here’s another reason not to damage ruins or steal artifacts: It’s illegal. A variety of laws protect archaeological resources. These include, but are not limited to, the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).

ARPA prohibits the removal of pottery and all other artifacts from archaeological sites on federal land, including national forests, national parks, and BLM land. ARPA also prohibits the destruction of ruins themselves and the defacing or removal of rock art.

Pothunters and vandals can be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to one year, or both. If the value of the archaeological resources involved and the cost of their restoration and repair exceed $500, the perpetrator may be charged with a felony, the fine increased to up to $20,000, and the prison time increased to up to two years. Repeat offenders may be fined up to $100,000, imprisoned for up to five years, or both.

In addition to ARPA, state laws in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico protect archaeological resources, as does the federal Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).