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Indiana Historical Bureau

IHB > Shop > Books Listed by Topic > The Indiana Historian > Archaeology in Indiana: The Early Years > Responsible Artifact Collecting Responsible Artifact Collecting

Archaeological artifacts are unique and irreplaceable pieces of the prehistoric puzzle. Because of this, it is very important that artifacts be properly collected and recorded. The real value of artifacts lies in the information they provide on where, how, and when people lived in the past. Responsible artifact collecting recovers information, not just artifacts.

For responsible artifact collecting, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (IDNR, DHPA) recommends the following steps:

1. Always have landowners' permission to be on their property and to collect artifacts.

2. When you find artifacts, record the location of the archaeological site on a map.

Standard U.S.G.S. 7.5' (minute) topographic quadrangle maps work well for this purpose, and may be obtained from the United States Geological Survey, the IDNR Map Sales office, and other map dealers.

3. Keep records on the location of artifacts.

A good way to do this is to assign each archaeological site a specific letter or number, and to mark the appropriate number on each artifact collected. For lithic artifacts, for example, wash the artifact, mark each piece using a fine-tipped pen and permanent ink. Write clearly and keep the markings small, so as to obscure as little of the artifact as possible. After the ink has dried, cover the markings with clear fingernail polish. This will keep the markings from rubbing off if the artifact is handled.

4. Don't DIG for artifacts, only collect artifacts from the surface.

The excavation of artifacts should only be done by professionals or avocationals who have been trained in proper, systematic excavation techniques. Improper digging for artifacts destroys irreplaceable information about the past.

Indiana law (Indiana Code 14-21-1) requires that any excavation for artifacts dating before December 11, 1816 must be done in accordance with a plan that has been reviewed and accepted by the DHPA. Any discovery of human remains, or possible human remains, should be left undisturbed, and should be reported immediately to the DHPA or to an IDNR Conservation Officer.

5.To learn more about archaeological resources and artifacts contact the IDNR, DHPA, 402 W. Washington Street, Room W274, Indianapolis, IN 46204; 317-232-1646,

Source: James A. Mohow, Poster of projectile point types (1997) available from IDNR, DHPA.