by Elizabeth S. Paynter – CART Lab Director
Moving any artifact without careful excavation impacts the ability to understand our past. The exact location and direction of an artifact including the depth at which it was found is significant. Other artifacts near the one found, the landscape, and the soils are also important. While other artifacts may not be visible and understanding the landscape and soils may be difficult, they all play a role in understanding what occurred in the past.
On Public Land
On most public land, it is illegal to disturb, damage or remove any “object of antiquity” without a permit.
In Fairfax County, Park Authority Regulations §1.08 Historic Artifacts, Features and Man-Made Objects states that
No person shall damage, disturb or remove any historic artifacts, historic features or other manmade objects from a park without the express written permission of the Park Authority. For the purposes of these regulations, “historic artifacts” are any material remains that give physical evidence of human occupation, habitation, use or activity; and “historic features” include, but are not limited to, walls, fence lines, cellars, fire pits, mill races, trenches, tent platforms, quarries or any other man-made arrangement of materials or the trace thereof.
On Private Land
Sites and their contents belong to the land owner. Property owners may take steps to protect an archaeological site on their property. You must have permission of the land owner concerning artifacts on private land. Keep in mind that uncontrolled collection destroys important archaeological information and can harm the property.
Finding an Artifact
So what should you do if you find an artifact and do not happen to have a professional archaeologist standing next to you? Regardless of where you are, we recommend certain actions when artifacts are found.
Leave the artifact in place.
Take a clear photo. Include a scale. Alternatively, include an item with a known size that will help to indicate the size of the artifact. Even part of a hand will help to determine the approximate size of an object. Indicate North. In the photo, include an item such as a pencil pointing north. Smart phones will often have a built in compass.
Record information. Catalog the artifact photo. Keep records. Note the material, object, and give a description. Record your location. Most map programs on smart phones will give the longitude and latitude for a location. Geocaching applications can also be downloaded. Draw a map. Is it near a body of water? Near a historic road? If someone wants to find the location again, is something near that will help pin point the location of the artifact in addition to any coordinates. Add the location of any other artifacts found within a hundred feet. Note if your map is not to scale. Include the scale if it is. Don’t forget to use an arrow pointing north. Reference any other maps you have drawn. Add the date that you have drawn the map.
Contact an archaeologist. Is the location of the artifact in Fairfax County? Contact us! Call us at 703-534-3881. For other artifacts or sites contact the State Department of Historic Resources. Contact information for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) can be found under Regional Archaeology Programs on the Division of State Archaeology Homepage.
Volunteer in Archaeology. Volunteer with archaeologists and learn about proper methodology and stewardship. There are many places to volunteer in our area. If you are interested in volunteering with us, see the Help Us page on this blog.
Finding a Site
Register an archaeological site. For information on registering an archaeological site, go to the State Department of Historic Resources. Information on registering an archaeological site in Virginia can be found under Registering Archaeological Sites on the Division of State Archaeology Homepage.
Protect a site on your land. Contact your local Department of Historic Resources. In Virginia, read more about archaeological site stewardship from the department of historic resources on VDHR’s Archaeological Site Stewardship page.
Follow VDHR’s recommendations: Learn more about your site and sites around it. Maintaining your site in its natural condition. Do not “allow unqualified persons to “collect” or “dig” at your site and you should report any unauthorized activities—”looting”—to the State Archaeologist and local police. Do not conduct any earth moving or construction in the immediate vicinity of your site. (VDHR 2017)
For more about Archaeology and Cultural Resources in Fairfax County go to the Fairfax County Cultural Resource Management page.
Fairfax County. 2015. “Cultural Resource Management and Protection”. County of Fairfax, Virginia. Electronic. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/resource-management/resources-crp.htm accessed September 13, 2017
Fairfax County Park Regulations §1.08 Historic Artifacts, Features and Man-Made Objects. 2002. Revised and adopted 2011. Electronic. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/parkpolicy/app7regs.pdf accessed September 13, 2017
Texas Historical Commission. n.d. “Artifact Collecting in Texas”. Texas Historical Commission Archaeology Division. Electronic. http://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/archeology-artifact-collecting-tx.pdf accessed September 13, 2017
Title 10.1 Conservation. Chapter 23. Virginia antiquities Act. §10.1-2302 Permit Required to Conduct Field Investigations; Ownership of Objects of Antiquity; Penalty. Electronic. https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title10.1/chapter23/section10.1-2302/ accessed September 13, 2017
Virginia Department of Historic Resources. 2016. “State and Federal Laws and Regulations”. Virginia Department of Historic Resources Division of Review and Compliance. Electronic. http://dhr.virginia.gov/review/orcLawsRegs.html accessed September 13, 2017
Virginia Department of Historic Resources. 2017. “Division of State Archaeology Homepage”. Virginia Department of Historic Resources Division of State Archaeology. Electronic. http://dhr.virginia.gov/arch_DHR/archaeo_index.htm accessed September 13, 2017
Virginia Department of Historic Resources. 2017. “Archaeological Site Stewardship”. Virginia Department of Historic Resources Division of State Archaeology. Electronic. http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/arch_DHR/steward.htm accessed September 13, 2017