Under the Field Archaeology Act (Minnesota Statutes 138.40, Subd. 2), agencies must assist the State Archaeologist and the Minnesota Historical Society with protecting archaeological and historic sites. When archaeological or historical sites exist on public lands, the agency controlling that land is obligated to preserve such sites and can use their funds to help with that preservation.
There are over 18,000 known archaeological sites in the State Archaeologist's inventory. Some of these sites date to over 12,000 years old and others are as recent as 75 years old. The sites include burial mounds, ancient Indian villages, shipwrecks, farmsteads, fur posts, and battlegrounds. It is estimated that less than one percent of Minnesota's archaeological sites have been recorded. Unlike buildings and structures, most archaeological sites are hidden below the ground surface and can only be found through archaeological survey.
Several thousand of the known sites in Minnesota are on federal lands (e.g., national forests, national parks). The State Archaeologist has no jurisdiction over these federal sites and state law does not apply to them. The non-federal sites are both privately owned and publicly owned, but it is difficult to determine how many of each of these two types of ownership exists in current records.
How to Report a Site
If you know of an archaeological site or a possible archaeological site on land you own or manage, you should report it to the State Archaeologist. You can do this by filing out the short version of the official archaeological inventory form or, if you have access to a professional archaeologist, you can submit the long version of the site inventory form. Learn more these forms on our Site Inventory Forms page.
Archaeological sites are defined as:
A discrete location containing evidence of past human activity that holds significance for archaeologists.
Most archaeological sites worthy of recording will be over 100 years old. Archaeological sites can be evidenced by features (e.g., ruins, depressions) or artifacts (e.g., prehistoric stone tools, historic bottles).
State law dictates that only significant archaeological sites need to be protected (Minnesota Statutes 138.40, Subd. 3 and Water Law Rules 6120). However, all burial sites must be protected on public or private lands, per the Private Cemeteries Act (Minnesota Statutes 307.08).
Significant sites are listed in or determined eligible for the State Register of Historic Places or the Federal Register of Historic Places. Eligibility is based on both a site's inherent significance and its current integrity. Only the Minnesota Historical Society or the State Archaeologist can determine eligibility of a site for the purposes of state law.
Although only significant sites need be protected, all archaeological sites have some value, so the State Archaeologist encourages the protection of all sites if it is reasonable.
Eligibility is not always immediately apparent and often requires extensive examination by a professional archaeologist. An evaluation survey is referred to as Phase 2 survey. You can learn more about phases of archaeological survey on our survey requirements page.
Guidelines for Managing Sites
In order to properly manage significant archaeological resources on public lands, the State Archaeologist recommends that agencies complete a Historic Resources Management Plans (HRMP). HRMPs provide guidance to agencies and other landowners on how to best consider, protect, and, in some cases, interpret historical and archaeological properties that exist on their lands.
These plans are often called Cultural Resources Management Plans or CRMPs, but technically a CRMP would have to include consideration of all culturally significant information such as non-historic sacred sites. Some HRMPs are in response to specific undertakings while others simply represent general management strategies for agencies that own archaeological sites.
HRMPs establish standardized procedures that landowners and managers can follow without being Cultural Resources Management (CRM) professionals. The plan should avoid the use of overly technical language or historic preservation jargon. Plan writers should remember that the most important element of a well-written management plan is careful consideration of the ability of the agency or landowner to carry it out.
A critical part of developing HRMPs is performing careful and comprehensive consultation with interested individuals and groups. The State Archaeologist, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, Indian communities, members of the public, and other groups who have concerns for the preservation of historic resources need to be contacted early in the process and should stay involved throughout the development and implementation of the plan.
Prior to completing an HRMP, you should complete some inventory of potential historic properties in order to anticipate the scope of historic contexts, site conditions, and property types involved. A complete reconnaissance survey is not necessary prior to drafting the HRMP. Similarly, evaluations of site significance do not need to be completed prior to the completion of the HRMP, although the plan should anticipate such work.
The HRMP should include consideration of all potential historical resources, not just archaeological sites. Therefore, more than archaeologists should be on the planning team. Teams members should be familiar with:
the mission and operations of the landowner or agency;
historic preservation laws and practices;
the types of historic properties which may be considered; and
the management and treatment issues specific to the properties included in the HRMP.
In addition, team members should meet the professional qualifications and standards for the various areas of necessary expertise based on property types involved.