There are common misconceptions about finding and reporting archaeological sites on private land in Texas. The Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross State University is committed to providing accurate information to landowners so they can help preserve these important resources.
Are archaeological sites and asset or liability?
They are an asset. Working with qualified archaeologists like those at the Center can actually increase the value of your land. By documenting archaeological sites, we can help landowners identify and contextualize the archaeological resources on their property which, in turn, can be used to develop ecotourism opportunities, aid in pursuing conservation grants and increase property values, while promoting a broader appreciation of the deep human history of the Big Bend region.
If I let an archaeologist study an archeological site on my land, will I risk losing my property?
No, there is no legal mechanism by which private property can be taken, regardless of its archaeological value. Instead, the Center works with landowners to better understand what archaeological resources exist on their property to recommend voluntary actions to protect and preserve these non-renewable resources.
What happens to the information the Center documents?
Archaeological information is privileged information (stored at the Center) that is only shared with the landowner unless express written permission is granted to share with others.
What qualifies as an archaeological site?
Any place where material evidence about the human past exists. An archaeological site is a record of past human behavior on the landscape. Sites in the Big Bend region span thousands of years of history from spear points associated with extinct animals like mammoths, to historic adobe structures and tin can scatters. Not every archaeological site needs to be protected but should at least be documented before it is lost.
Does the state have a law that protects important archeological sites?
Currently there are no laws that protect archaeological sites on private property unless the landowner voluntarily chooses to have a specific site designated as a Texas State Antiquities Landmark (SAL) or the site is protected by a conservation easement.
Does the Center keep arrowheads or other artifacts collected from my land?
No. Depending on the arrangement with the landowner, we may collect artifacts for laboratory analysis, but their ownership remains with the landowner and they are returned once lab work is complete. As archaeologists, we are less interested in retaining artifacts than gaining the information they provide. However, if a landowner wishes to donate artifacts to the Center we can accommodate donations.
What happens if prehistoric human remains are discovered on my land?
In some circumstances, the inadvertent discovery of human remains can trigger the Texas Health and Safety Code. In these rare circumstances, the Center staff can help landowners coordinate with the Texas Historical Commission to navigate any state statutes that may apply.
Can the Center document the archaeological sites on my land?
Yes, we can, but there are costs associated with professional recording. We offer free consultations and can discuss a range of options for archaeological site protection on your land. We typically request that interested parties make a monetary contribution to our Archaeological Site Conservation Program to offset costs.