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Reporting Archaeological Sites

You don’t have to be a professional archaeologist to register an archaeological site with the state. Everyone can help record archaeological sites. In fact, thousands of the recorded sites in Mississippi were reported by amateur collectors and avocational archaeologists. If you know about or have found an archaeological site (mound, village, campsite, artifact scatter, arrowheads, fishweir, old house place, shipwreck, etc.), please report its location to any of the archaeology offices of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) in Jackson, Clarksdale, or Starkville (See Contact Information below). If you would like to learn how to report an archaeological site, MDAH archaeologists can provide information and assistance about how to record sites in Mississippi.

Download a .PDF version of a MDAH Archaeological Site Card:

MDAH Archaeological Site Card

Note: Site cards should be printed out on white acid-free card-stock paper, completed, and sent to MDAH, P.O. Box 571, Jackson, MS 39205-0571.

Ways you can help to document and preserve Mississippi's archaeological heritage include:
  • Becoming knowledgeable about the prehistory of our state and the people who lived here for thousands of years.

  • Recording the location of the site where each of your artifacts was found and marking each artifact with a site identification number (use the official state site number if known or your own system).

  • Reporting the locations of archaeological sites so they may be added to the statewide inventory.

  • Reporting any archaeological site destruction you witness.

  • Inviting an archaeologist to study your artifact collection.

  • Preserving archaeological sites on your property: do not allow any digging on your property except by professional archaeologists or under their supervision.

  • Joining the Mississippi Archaeological Association and supporting programs aimed at the proper management of archaeological sites. Join a local chapter of the MAA.
It is important that amateur archaeologists appreciate the fragile nature of archaeological sites and practice proper techniques when investigating them. First and foremost, the collector must understand the difference between collecting artifacts from the ground surface and digging into a site. Digging at an archaeological site without the supervision of a trained professional destroys most of the information that archaeologists need to interpret a site and should never be attempted. On the other hand, responsible amateur archaeologists can engage in surface collecting and recording of sites and contribute to the knowledge of the prehistory of our state.

IMPORTANT: Digging human burials (historic or prehistoric) is ILLEGAL on ALL property—public or private. You can be fined and/or imprisoned for up to two years for burial desecration.

Frequently Asked Questions About Reporting Archaeological Sites

If I report a site on my land, will the state limit what I can do or try to take over my property?
NO. MDAH archaeologists are interested only in recording the site’s location and artifacts recovered from your site. We are, however, interested in protecting sites from destruction and can work with landowners to preserve important sites.

Will the state confiscate my artifacts?
NO. By state law, artifacts found on private property belong to the landowner. MDAH archaeologists are interested in recording private collections to add to the MDAH database and to aid in our understanding of the past. MDAH does accept for permanent curation and future study donations of artifact collections that are clearly marked as to their provenience.

If I report a site, will it become public record?
YES and NO. Yes, the general information about the site will be available to the public as well as professional archaeologists and government agency planners. No, specific information about site locations is protected information. Records of MDAH are public, but information about archaeological site locations is protected by law and exempted from freedom of information requests. Site location information is kept confidential so that site owners will not be disturbed with trespassers, and sites will not be damaged or destroyed by vandals.

What should I do when I find artifacts at a site?
If you collect artifacts from an archaeological site, it is very important to keep good records. You should mark each of your sites on an accurate map, such as a USGS 7.5’ topographic map, USDA soil maps, or a highway map. Free topographic maps are available to download or print at TopoZone.com. Keep artifacts from different sites separated. Label each of your pieces in a way that will tell you from which site they came. For example, mark your own site name or number on artifacts with indelible ink.

What should I do if I find a site on private property?
Always ask permission of a landowner before visiting an archeological site on private property. Never take anything from a site or disturb it in any way unless the landowner has given permission and you know how to keep a careful record of what is removed. It can be a trespassing or Antiquities Law violation to gather artifacts on private property without the permission of the landowner.

What should I do if I find artifacts or sites on state or federal land?
Removing artifacts from state or federal land is illegal. If you find artifacts on publicly owned land, report your find to the agency manager, MDAH, or a professional archaeologist.

If I find artifacts on top of the ground, should I dig to see what else is there?
NO. Digging disturbs evidence and destroys part of the scientific value of a site and its artifacts. Refrain from digging at archaeological sites. The locations of artifacts and other fragile archaeological remains are evidence of the behavior of the people who made them. Only through careful, scientific excavation can the archaeologist recover and interpret this evidence. Archaeological sites are considered “non-renewable resources”: once a site is excavated or disturbed in any way, the information the site contained is no longer available and cannot be gained from another source.

The main MDAH archaeology office is located in Jackson on the first floor of the Charlotte Capers Archives and History Building, 100 South State Street.

John Underwood (chief archaeologist) or Patty Miller-Beech (staff archaeologist)
P.O. Box 571
Jackson, MS 39205-0571
Phone: (601) 576-6944
Fax: (601) 576-6955

What's New?

Today's Headlines
Click here to visit the Archaeological Institute of America's "News" page, or here to visit Topix.net, to see how archaeology is making headlines.

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Help Preserve Mississippi's Cultural Heritage
Click here to learn how to preserve a piece of Mississippi's archaeological record.

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