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.
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.
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.
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.
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