October 14, 2010

Q: What do I do if I find an artifact in the ground?

The Burke Museum partners with the Seattle PI's Big Blog to answer commonly asked questions about the natural and cultural history of our region. Read past entries from the Ask the Burke column here.

The following was posted to the Seattle PI's Ask the Burke column on Oct. 8.

Q: What do I do if I find an artifact in the ground?

A: Sometimes people accidentally find artifacts on their property when gardening or renovating homes. If this happens to you, your first step would be to record as much information as possible about where you found the artifact, including a sketch map showing depth and specific location on your property. Keep this information with the artifact--it adds to the research value of the item. If you live in Washington, contact the archaeology staff at the Burke Museum to inform them about your find. If you live outside Washington, contact the office of your state archaeologist.

Other times, people stumble upon an artifact on property other than their own (for example, a University of Washington freshman was working in a garden on campus last fall and accidentally found a 4,000 to 7,000 year old stone projectile point). In this case, you should leave the artifact where it is, because it is illegal to remove artifacts from land you do not own without a permit. The best approach is to record details about the artifact's location and physical appearance – if you have a camera with you, photograph the artifact in place and the area around it. If you are on private property that you do not own, inform the land owner of your find. If you are on public land (federal, state, or tribal), contact an archaeology specialist at a museum such as the Burke or your state archaeologist for advice about which land management agency should be notified of the find.

Finally, if you ever inadvertently come across human remains on your property or elsewhere, stop your activities in the area immediately and call 9-1-1. For a more detailed description of the laws pertaining to archaeological artifacts, visit this site.

Got more questions about archaeology? The annual Archaeology Day is this Sunday, October 17. Practicing local archaeologists will be at the museum all day to answer questions and talk to the public.

Photo: UW freshmen Ellen Van Wyk talks to Burke archaeologist Laura Phillips as they hold an artifact Van Wyk found in the ground.