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Archaeological Site Etiquette Guide

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Today, the single largest problem cultural resource managers face is unintentional damage caused by visitors. Sadly, impacts occur even where visitors consistently practice minimum-impact techniques. Therefore, when visiting archeological and historical sites, minimum-impact techniques are a requirement. There can be no compromise in protecting these fragile and priceless resources.


Archaeological Protection Laws

Archaeological resources anywhere in Scottsdale are protected by Chapter 46 of the City Code. Archaeological resources within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve (Preserve) are protected by the Preserve rules in Chapter 21 of the City Code. Please notify Preservation, 480-312-7013 if you discover any illegal activity in the Preserve or the Police Department at 480-312-5000 for non-emergencies. Archaeological sites are also protected by the Federal Antiquities Protection Act of 1906, the Federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA), and state laws protecting cultural resources, human remains and grave sites. Local, state and federal laws provide for prosecution with fines and/or imprisonment.

The following guidelines will help you minimize your impact on archaeological sites you visit.

  • Keep in mind that not entering a site and viewing it from a distance will reduce the impact a site receives. People may say, "It's just a couple of us and it's just this one time," but there may be thousands of people saying the same thing.
  • If a trail has been built across a site, stay on it. Foot traffic, especially on the midden, causes erosion that may undermine the walls of structures above. This is the most severe type of impact caused by continual visits to a site. Users of the Preserve are required to stay on the trails.
  • When you see "thousands" of potsherds and other artifacts, leave them. If each visitor took just one artifact, there would soon be none left.
  • Artifacts, in context (where they lie), tell a story. Once they are moved, a piece of the past is destroyed forever. Digging, removing or piling up artifacts changes what could be learned from these pieces of the past.
    STOP, LOOK and THINK before entering a cultural site. Try to locate the midden area (the trash pile), so you can avoid walking on it. Middens contain important archaeological artifacts and information. They are extremely fragile and walking over them will cause damage.
  • Do not camp in or near cultural sites. It is illegal to do so. Preserve rules prohibit camping.
  • Moving rocks and tree branches to climb to high places destroys site integrity. Avoid touching plaster walls.
  • Enjoy rock art (petroglyphs) by viewing, sketching, and photographing it. NEVER chalk, trace, or otherwise touch rock art. Any kind of direct contact causes these ancient figures to disintegrate. Oils from even the cleanest hands can cause deterioration.
  • Creating modern "rock art" is known as vandalism and is punishable by law.
  • Never build fires in alcoves, even alcoves that don't seem to contain archaeological remains. Sites may not be obvious.
  • Climbing on roofs and walls can destroy in a moment what has lasted for centuries.
  • Cultural sites are places of ancestral importance to Native Peoples and should be treated with respect. Specific sites are sacred to some Native Peoples.
  • Pets can damage sites by digging, urinating and defecating in them. Please do not bring pets onto archaeological sites.

Courtesy of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Bureau of Land Management, with additions from Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park guide. Edited for City of Scottsdale distribution by the Preservation Division, 480-312-7013, Preservation@Scottsdaleaz.gov.