Skip to content
Secondary Content

Common Questions

artifacts: corn cobs, potsherds, cordage


Is it ever okay to take an artifact home?

Absolutely not, unless the landowner gives you permission.

And if the landowner is the government, you do not have permission! It is always illegal to take artifacts of any kind—ancient or more recent—from public lands.

Why not?

Federal and state laws protect archaeological sites from damage. If you move an artifact from its context, it becomes basically meaningless. The story it could have told it lost.

But what if I want to give something I found to a museum?

You can best do that by leaving it in place and letting professional archaeologists study the site.

They may excavate it and carefully study the seeds, bones, stones, pottery pieces, basket fragments, and other artifacts. They’ll look at the layers of dirt and the positions of each artifact they find.

Their detailed report will put the artifact you found in context—we will know about the people who lived there and how they lived.

Now there is a real gift to all of us!

But Indiana Jones doesn’t excavate sites!

Remember, Hollywood doesn’t care about science!  Hollywood invented this guy in order to make a pile of money. Indiana Jones is not so much an archaeologist as a treasure-hunter.

Unfortunately, early archaeologists sometimes did more artifact collecting than actual science. But modern archaeologists aren’t seeking spectacular museum pieces, they’re seeking priceless knowledge.

What about arrowheads or bones that have washed down streambeds? They aren’t in context anymore.

Actually, yes they are. Archaeologists know how to look at patterns of runoff and erosion and can even learn from an arrowhead—or “point”—in a dry streambed.

Thousands of points have been stolen from public lands. If they were still in place, archaeologists would know more about where hunters lived or hunted and how they obtained food.

What happens to people who loot and vandalize?

The federal government and the State of Utah vigorously prosecute looters and vandals. These criminals face jail time and/or large fines.

I have a friend who has a bunch of arrowheads he collected. What should I do?

Explain to him why it matters so much that people don’t collect artifacts. One of the most effective things you can do is educate yourself and others.

And what if I see people doing something stupid, like climbing on ruins?

Same thing—politely explain how their actions are damaging an irreplaceable treasure.

So if I see someone digging in a site, should I talk to them about what they’re doing?

No! Serious looters are sometimes dangerous. Instead, get their license plate number and report them right away to a ranger, the landowner, or the Antiquities Section (that’s us). Report anyone who is intentionally damaging rock art or sites in any way.

What are the dos and don’ts for visiting sites?

We’ll tell you here.