Archaeological Ethics and Law

Bibliographic Information

Course Title

Archaeological Ethics and Law

Institution Where Taught

Penn State University

Web Address (URL)

Additional Information

Course Number

ANTH 433

Course Level

Course Description

This course explores the ethical, legal, and practical dimensions of modern archaeology through a consideration of the following topics: archaeology as a profession; archaeological ethics; the relationship between archaeology and others (the public, ethnic groups, avocationals, collectors, etc.); international and national approaches to archaeological heritage management; the antiquities market; maritime law, underwater archaeology, and treasure hunting; cultural resource management in the United States; and archaeological outreach and education. Students are introduced to a variety of legal and ethical issues in archaeology that span local to international scales. Through lecture, discussion, and readings, students will consider the archeology and ethics of ownership and stewardship, including issues centered on intellectual property rights, representation, repatriation, and reburial of cultural properties. They will be able to identify the various stakeholders in contemporary archaeology, and assess their values and interests in issues such as the treatment, ownership, and disposition of human remains, heritage sites, submerged cultural resources, and antiquities. They will consider growing problems with illicit collecting and excavation, illegal trade, and global concerns centered on the international trafficking of antiquities, and will be variously exposed to relevant national and international legislation involving cultural patrimony and management of antiquities, including international treaties such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property, and related pieces of US federal legislation. The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act (ARPA) of 1974 figure prominently in the course. In general, upon completion of the course students will come to have a stronger appreciation of archaeological ethics and “archaeopolitics”; they will have a good understanding of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards (36CFR61) for professional archaeologists and will be able to assess and evaluate contemporary issues of archaeological ethics and law in the context of modern practice.

Syllabus Available



Course description is available on Penn State's university bulletin snd was last updated August, 2016 (new course descriptions can be found in their current bulletin on LionPATH). Please contact department for further information.

Additional tags: archaeological heritage management; stakeholders; NAGPRA; Historic Preservation Act; archaeopolitics


RPA Codes & Standards

CIfA Codes

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Topics & Issues