The Antiquities Act: A 100-year legacy
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first preservation statute enacted in the United States, the Antiquities Law of 1906.It was passed because of 25 years of hard work by American scientists concerned about the destruction of the past and the desecration of the dead.One of the people who helped raise the conscience and consciousness of the American people toward the plundering of their heritage was Adolf Bandelier.While visiting sites in the Southwest in the late 1800s he observed, “Treasure hunters … have recklessly and ruthlessly disturbed the abodes of the dead.”My personal connection to Bandelier came as a high school student in the 1960s, when, like the famous scientist, I was touring sites in the Southwest.It was under the magic spell of the spectacular national monument in New Mexico named after him, that I first made the decision to become an archaeologist.The far-reaching effects of a law passed a century ago extend to that decision as well. It was the Antiquities Act of 1906 that gave presidents the power to establish national monuments.It was a law that also gave protection to archaeological sites “or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States …”This special provision recognized the value and significance of the past for all Americans. Its lofty aim was to ensure that history and prehistory embodied in archaeological sites would be protected and preserved for future generations as well.It enabled a snotty-nosed kid still wet behind the ears to walk among the awe-inspiring ruins preserved as the Bandelier National Monument.More than that, it sparked a tiny flame that burned within me into a passion that still defines who I am and what my profession means to me … “caring for the land and serving people.”President Theodore Roosevelt, with the stroke of a pen, signed into law the Antiquities Act. He also established forest reserves that would later become national forests.I have the honor and privilege of working as a public servant on the best unit in the national forest system, the White River National Forest.Thus I have the responsibility of making sure that the provisions of the Antiquities Act of 1906 are carried out, both in the spirit of the law and to the letter of the law.There are other more powerful laws that have been passed since 1906 to meet today’s needs, such as the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979.The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 also gives even more teeth to laws intended to protect the heritage of our nation’s original inhabitants.All these acts make into outlaws those selfish individuals who disturb sites that catch their fancy and who rob artifacts from our public lands for personal use or to sell.Celebrate a 100-year legacy that I am proud and humbled to be a part of by helping to preserve our past as a law-abiding citizen, not an outlaw.Writing with more than 25 years of historic preservation experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories and concerns with readers every other week.
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