Avocational Archaeology

There are many things everyone can do to help protect the past for the future. When you visit archaeological sites, you can help protect them from human impact by following proper site etiquette guidelines. Check with your state's Historic Preservation Office or Department of Natural Resources to see if they offer a site steward program. Site stewards are volunteers that monitor archaeological sites and record any changes or damages that occur.

You can become involved in archaeology as a field or lab volunteer. State archaeological societies welcome volunteers to help record, survey, or excavate sites. They may also need help washing and sorting artifacts in the lab. Many of these groups belong to the SAA's Council of Allied Societies. If your state celebrates an annual archaeology week or month, attend or help with a local event. There are many ways to get involved in archaeology.

Collecting Artifacts

Is it okay to collect artifacts?

In some cases, removing an artifact from where you found it is against the law—in state and national parks or on tribal lands. Removing artifacts from these areas is a crime that is punishable by jail time and fines. Collecting artifacts on private property is not against the law if you have permission from the landowner.

I found an artifact and would like more information about it. What should I do?

It is best to leave the artifact where you found it but record as much information as possible. Note its location and a description of the artifact. It is useful to draw or photograph the object and record its location on a map if possible. If you are visiting a state or national park, inform a park ranger or naturalist. Each state has a Historic Preservation Office that records the exact location of archaeological sites.

It is important to leave an artifact where it is and only record information, because it is difficult to identify an artifact out of context. For more information on a specific artifact, it is best to contact your State Archaeologist, local museums, or local university anthropology departments.

Can you tell me how much my artifact or collection is worth?

Archaeologists value artifacts for the information they contain about life in the past. Museums and professional archaeology societies do not offer monetary evaluations of objects. There are some professional appraisal societies that perform this service.

Getting Involved

Are there any training programs for avocational archaeologists?

Yes. Many state archaeological societies have avocational archaeology certification programs for non-professional archaeologists. You can check with your State Archaeologist or state archaeological society for more information.

How can I volunteer on a dig?

There are both private and public organizations that offer opportunities to take part in excavations. Private organizations such as Earthwatch, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and the Center for American Archaeology charge a fee that usually includes lodging and meals. Public agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service have volunteer programs. They do not generally charge fees, and usually offer inexpensive camp accommodations to volunteers. Some programs are targeted to different age groups.

How can I find a dig near where I live?

Many states hold annual archaeology celebrations that include local public events and opportunities to participate. You can also contact your State Archaeologist or your state archaeological society to find activities in your area. If you need additional help finding volunteer opportunities in your area, contact SAA's Archaeology Education Coordinator nearest to you.