Archaeology and the Law

Archaeology and the Law

Indiana, like many states, maintains laws pertaining to archaeological sites and cultural objects. Plain language answers to common questions are below.

YES. The Indiana Historic Preservation Act provides protection for archaeological sites and historic burial sites regardless of their location on state or private lands. All archaeological sites with artifacts dating before December 31, 1870, are protected under this act. Human burial sites are afforded protection under the Indiana General Cemetery Act and others. Development plans are required for disturbing ground within 100 feet of burial grounds for the purpose of excavating or covering over the ground or erecting, altering, or repairing any structure. Indiana code does not allow agricultural activities (such as plowing) that damage a cemetery.

An “artifact” is defined as“(1) a feature that is: (A) nonportable evidence of past human behavior or activity; (B) found on or in the ground, including structural remains; (C) formed before December 31, 1870 or an object made, modified, or used before December 31, 1870.”

It is not illegal to collect artifacts from the surface of sites as long as the collector has the landowner’s permission to be on the property and collect artifacts.

Artifacts and materials belong to the property owner unless he or she assigns ownership of the materials to another party.

Indiana State law says that a person who disturbs the ground for the purpose of discovering, uncovering, or moving archaeological sites or features with artifacts dating before Dec. 31, 1870 or human remains buried before January 1, 1940, must do so in accordance with an approved plan from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

Any disturbance, vandalism, or looting of an archaeological site should be reported immediately to either local law enforcement officials (who will then contact Conservation Officers) or the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (317/232-1646).

Any discovery of human remains or possible human remains should be left undisturbed and reported to the County Coroner, IDNR, Division of Law Enforcement, and the IDNR, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology as soon as possible.

The site or burial discovery must be reported to the IDNR within two working days. If the find is not reported, or disturbance of the site continues without consultation with the DNR, the law is being broken. When the discovery is reported to IDNR, law enforcement officers and professional archaeologists investigate the discovery and decide on a course of action to protect the site.

Yes, the penalties are assessed based on the nature of the crime. Crimes may be classified as Class A, C, or D felonies. For a detailed explanation of the penalties please download the PDF referenced above.

For additional information...

For additional information on the laws regarding archaeological resources in Indiana, visit the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

Any questions regarding archaeology in Indiana may be directed to:

State Archaeologist, Amy L. Johnson
Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA)
402 West Washington Street, Room W274
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2739

Email Amy L. Johnson, State Archaeologist for the DHPA at