The Jimmy Carter Clause in ARPA – Part IV: The “Less than 100 Years Old” Argument

by Tracy C. Brown

We here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog do not claim to be licensed attorneys, and the text of this blog post should not be taken or construed as legal counsel. If you need such counsel, please contact a licensed attorney in your state or U.S. territory.  With that said, the owner of this blog has spent a great deal of the past 26 years working on federal contract projects that involved compliance with the many federal statutes and regulations applicable to protection of the environment in the United States. More than five of those years were spent as the lead Environmental Compliance Specialist for Battelle Memorial Institute (Oak Ridge), a federal prime contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy. Collectively, the texts of these environmental statutes and regulations are voluminous, complex, and highly detailed―much more so than the current federal cultural resource management statutes and regulations. Multiple volumes of these environmental laws and regulations easily fill several shelves in a bookcase. Over the years, our blog owner has found that certain general principles and interpretive rules of thumb apply to the content of virtually all federal statutes and regulations, regardless of the subject matter that they address. Therefore, with his input, the blog feels reasonably qualified to offer some thoughts on the Jimmy Carter Clause and the confusion surrounding it within the artifact collector community.  This post is provided as a public service of the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute.

This one is going to be short, sweet, and to the point.  Section 3 of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) states the following:

(1) The term “archaeological resource” means any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest, as determined under the uniform regulations promulgated pursuant to this Act. Such regulations containing such determination shall include, but not be limited to: pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, human skeletal materials, or any portion or piece of any of the foregoing items. Nonfossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, or any portion or piece thereof, shall not be considered archaeological resources, under the regulations under this paragraph, unless found in an archaeological context. No item shall be treated as an archaeological resource under regulations under this paragraph unless such item is at least 100 years of age. [Section 3 (a)]

After reading that portion of ARPA, some artifact collectors have been heard to state something along the lines of the following:

Regardless of the Jimmy Carter Clause, Section 3 of ARPA says I can legally keep any artifacts I find on federal lands or in federal waters as long as they are 100 years old or less than 100 years old. They can’t touch me as long as the artifacts I collect are that recent!!!!

Wrong!!! Just like in the previous three main posts, ARPA contains no exemption language that turns off the applicability of other federal statutes and regulations that exist outside of ARPA and apply to collector activities on federal lands and in federal waters. Federal agencies can still nail artifact collector hides to the wall using these other applicable federal statutes and regulations, which deal with trespassing, stealing federal property, etc. An artifact or any other archaeological resource 100 years old or less than 100 years old that is on federal property or in federal waters is considered to be federal property, just like a U.S. Forest Service pick-up truck. regardless of ARPA. On federal lands or in federal waters, if a federal law enforcement officer catches you collecting artifacts or other archaeological resources 100 years old or less in age, she can still arrest you and put you in jail. The federal legal system can prosecute, imprison, and/or fine you for stealing federal property and/or violating other laws and regulations that have nothing to do with ARPA.

What does all of this boil down to?  When you are on federal lands or in federally owned or controlled waters, never, never, ever pick up and carry home any Historic period artifact or other archaeological resource that is 100 years old or less than 100 years old.

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