Government Helps

Although countless sites have been destroyed in Louisiana, many other sites have been saved by concerned individuals, companies, and organizations.

Our legislators have been interested enough in Louisiana's heritage to draft laws that help protect sites. Without a permit, it is now illegal to dig into, alter, or take anything from a site on state or federal land. Recent legislation calls for strict fines or jail sentences for people collecting materials from federal lands.

Our laws also help protect sites from those land alteration projects that in the past destroyed so many sites. The locations of proposed projects are now checked against archaeological records to be sure that no known sites will be affected. If the project is a large one, or if the area appears likely to have sites, an archaeological investigation will be recommended to determine whether sites are in the area.

Because of this process, approximately 400 previously undocumented sites are now recorded and evaluated by archaeologists in Louisiana each year. This has resulted in a more complete record of Louisiana's archaeological sites and a decrease in the rate of site destruction by industry. It has also encouraged developers to think about the care of our past early in the planning stages of their projects.

Both federal and state governments protect archaeological sites as parks that the public can visit. In Louisiana, the National Park Service has included the Big Oak Island site near New Orleans as part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. This site dates from the time of Christ and was seasonally used for shellfish collecting and processing. The state of Louisiana owns two prehistoric archaeological sites that are open to the public and that have interpretive museums. One is Poverty Point State Commemorative Area where the state's largest prehistoric earthworks were built 3,000 years ago, and the other is Marksville State Commemorative Area where Indians built mounds approximately 2,000 years ago. Archaeological investigations have also been conducted at many of the commemorative areas associated with 18th, 19th, and 20th century history. These parks give people a chance to learn more about archaeology and how it contributes to an understanding of our state's past.

Business and Industry Help

Businesses and industries are most likely to deal with archaeological sites when they plan projects on publicly-owned lands or when projects require permits. Many developers are sensitive to the need for preservation of important sites and plan ahead for evaluation of the project's impact on these. Businesses and industries whose projects will affect sites are proving to be creative in their responses. Sometimes, a minor change, like moving a road 25 feet to one side, may prevent a site from being destroyed.

Businesses also participate in archaeology because of curiosity about sites on their land. Some have provided food and lodging for excavators or have given grants to archaeologists to fund field and lab work. After analysis is completed, these companies have either donated artifacts to a museum or have developed small displays for their employees.

Owners of a 41,000-acre plantation southwest of New Orleans funded archaeological study of their land. Their support, along with grants from the U.S. Department of the Interior, provided for systematic survey of the habitable portion of their land. Archaeologists located, identified, mapped, and evaluated more than 100 previously unrecorded prehistoric and historic sites. The study resulted in development of a plan for the future management of archaeological resources on the property, providing protection for an irreplaceable part of the state's history.

Companies are discovering that becoming involved with archaeology can have tax advantages. If a company donates land with a site on it to a nonprofit or governmental organization, the donation can be claimed as a tax deduction. A company also can receive a tax benefit by sponsoring excavation of a site either on or off its property. One southern Louisiana company funded 25% of the cost of an excavation and counted that as a tax deduction. The company owned the land with the site, so by donating the artifacts, it also could claim their worth as a tax deduction.

A Baton Rouge company also was able to use archaeology in public relations. It developed an outstanding display about prehistoric Louisiana for the lobby of its main building. The exhibit attracts visitors and promotes interest not only in archaeology, but also in the company's services.

One New Orleans developer is protecting a major site and is advertising its decision.

Private Landowners Help

People who have archaeological sites on their land have many ways of protecting the sites. A site covered by natural vegetation usually is camouflaged and has limited access. As long as the owner does not clear the land, disturbance to the site will be minimized. A site already in a cultivated field probably will not suffer significantly from continued plowing at the same depth. Although initial plowing altered artifact relationships in the plow zone, the materials beneath remain well protected.

The site in this soybean field has already been disturbed, but probably will not suffer significantly if plowing is continued at the same depth.

A landowner who is interested in protecting a site may want to have it recognized by placing it on the Registry of State Cultural Resource Landmarks. The Registry is established as an authoritative guide to the state's most important archaeological sites. Once a site is placed on the Registry, there is an agreement between the owner and the State of Louisiana to help protect it. This process ensures that important sites will be recognized, preserved, and protected to the maximum extent possible.

Landowners who finance excavations can receive substantial tax benefits.

A landowner who is unable to protect a site because of plans to plow deeper, cultivate an unplowed area, or do construction, should alert the Division of Archaeology. If he gives enough advance warning, an archaeologist may be able to evaluate the site before the changes begin.

Recently, the tax advantages available to site owners have been clarified. One landowner paid half of the excavation cost at a site on his land and claimed his cost as a tax deduction. Later, he donated the artifacts from the site and also deducted their worth, equivalent to the entire cost of the excavation.

Federal tax incentives also apply to the gift of an important archaeological site to a governmental or nonprofit organization. This donation can be either an outright gift or an easement (in which the owner gives up certain control of the land, but retains ownership). In either case, the transaction qualifies as a charitable contribution for federal income tax, estate tax, and gift tax purposes.

You Can Help

Most archaeological sites are first discovered not by professional archaeologists, but by ordinary people who live or work near the sites. Usually these people do not know how to report a site to the proper authorities. If you find a site, you can help protect Louisiana's heritage by letting archaeologists know about it. The Division of Archaeology has prepared a form especially for you to use, and one is in the center of this booklet.

The first step in recording a site is plotting its loacation on a U.S.G.S. topographic quad or other accurate map.

You should fill out the form as completely as possible, without attempting to dig in the site. Mark its location on a map, and photograph the site area. Try to draw the artifacts you see; you don't need to be an artist, just trace around them on a piece of paper and sketch in any designs. If you find artifacts in a protected area where they are not being disturbed, it is best not to collect them; they may tell an archaeologist a great deal if they are left in place. If, however, you do collect something from the site, be sure to store it carefully with information about exactly where you found it.

Please mail the form, map, photographs, and drawings to the Division of Archaeology. Your information will be carefully reviewed, and added to the permanent file stored in Baton Rouge. A staff archaeologist will write a letter, telling you if the site has been assigned an official state number, and possibly asking for more information. By reporting a site, you will be helping to record the history of the state.

If you want to learn more about Louisiana archaeology, you can enroll in a class at a local university, visit museums, read archaeology books, or tour one of the state archaeological commemorative areas.

You may also want to join the Louisiana Archaeological Society (LAS). The Society's chapters throughout the state have monthly meetings with programs discussing local and state-wide archaeology. The LAS publishes a quarterly newsletter with information about current research, and an annual bulletin with in-depth reports. Often the LAS chapters also are involved in archaeological survey or excavation. The organization's members are both professional and avocational archaeologists who come together to advance Louisiana archaeology.

You will also find other opportunities to help protect Louisiana's heritage throughout the year. You can encourage your elected officials to support legislation protecting sites. You can help friends record and preserve sites on their land. Most importantly, you can explain to others the importance of archaeological sites, and the reasons for preserving them. By doing these things, you will be working with concerned people throughout the state to preserve Louisiana's legacy for the future.