So, you think you found an archaeological site…

By Emily Mueller Epstein, PhD, RPA, Principal Investigator/Lab Director at Commonwealth Heritage Group, Inc.

Now that the weather is warm, the ‘school year’ is over, and summer camps are canceled, many Michigan families are headed into the great outdoors. From hiking and biking to swimming and boating, Michigan State Parks and the National Parks in the state offer a range of activities for families to explore. When people find out I am an archaeologist, they will ask for my suggestions on Michigan destinations where they can and combine interests in spending time outside and learning something new about Michigan history. The options are numerous, e.g, Keweenaw National Historical Park, Mackinac Island State Park. Another question I am often asked is, what do you do if you think you found an archaeological site?

First, it is illegal to remove artifacts from State of Michigan lands (MCL 324.76102). Archaeological sites and artifacts on State land are owned and administrated by the State of Michigan; professional investigations initiated as a result of environmental review laws or for academic research must be subject to the archaeological permitting process. If you do observe an archaeology site, you can report the find spot to the State Historic Preservation Office. Likewise, archaeological sites on private lands belong to that landowner. Removing or damaging archaeological sites on federal property is also illegal (36 CFR § 261.9).

The other reason one should leave artifacts where they find them, is that what can be inferred about the human past in that landscape is lost when artifacts are carelessly or even unintentionally removed. Removing artifacts from an archaeological site is somewhat like losing pieces to a jigsaw puzzle; the picture or archaeological interpretation is incomplete. So enjoy this summer, but most importantly leave the archaeology where you found it!


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