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Preservation of Wisconsin Archaeological Sites | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Preservation of Wisconsin Archaeological Sites

Preservation of Wisconsin Archaeological Sites | Wisconsin Historical Society

It is estimated that nearly 80% of the archaeological sites that once existed in the state have been destroyed or severely damaged, primarily by modern land practices such as development and farming. Many sites have also been damaged by looting. Explore the information on this page to learn how archaeological sites are protected in Wisconsin.

Archaeological Consultants

The State Archaeologist and the Burial Sites Preservation Office maintains a list of consultants qualified to conduct archaeological studies to identify and evaluate sites under various federal and state historic preservation laws.

These lists include contact information for architecture and history consultants, archaeologists approved to work with human burials and archaeologists qualified to analyze human remains.

Laws and Statutes

Burial Sites

All human burial sites, including cemeteries and Indian mounds, are protected under state law (Section 157.70). The law applies to both public and private lands. Owners of burial sites may receive property tax exemptions. The law is administered by the Society's Burial Sites Program.

Federal Projects

Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966 as Amended requires federal agencies to ensure that their actions (grants, funding, permits, activities such as highway building, etc.) do not adversely affect archaeological sites in (or eligible for) the National Register of Historic Places. For more information on the protection of archaeological sites during federal projects contact Compliance Archaeologist Kimberly Cook by phone at 608-264-6493 or by email.

Federal Lands

It is illegal to remove artifacts or otherwise disturb archaeological sites on federal lands without a permit under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979. Federal lands in Wisconsin include National Forests, National Parks and federal trust lands such as Indian Reservations.

Political Subdivision Projects

Archaeological sites may be protected during the course of village, city, county and other political subdivision projects (e.g. building, road construction, etc.) but only if the site is listed on the National/State Register of Historic Places, (Section 66.1111). For more information, contact us by phone at 608-261-2457 or by email.

Rock Art Sites

Destruction and vandalism of ancient rock art sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places without landowner permission is a felony under (Section 943.01).

State Lands

It is illegal to remove artifacts or otherwise disturb archaeological sites on state or political subdivision (village, city, county) lands without a permit under The Field Archaeology Act (Section 44.47). The law applies to both archaeological sites on public lands and submerged sites such as shipwrecks on publicly-owned bottomlands under lakes and rivers. For permits to work on public land contact the State Archaeologist by phone at 608-264-6496 or by email.

State Projects

Archaeological sites can be protected during the course of state agency activities (grants, funding, permits, ground disturbing projects) if the sites have been recorded with the Office of the State Archaeologist, (Section 44.40). For more information contact us at 608-261-2457 or by email.

Local Preservation Efforts

Significant archaeological sites in your community may be protected by special community landmarks ordinance. Contact your local landmarks commission. 

Native American Tribal Preservation Programs

The National Park Service (NPS) Tribal Preservation Program supports Wisconsin Indian tribes in the preservation of archaeological sites and sacred areas. Most have historic preservation programs or contacts. For more information, see our Tribal Historic Preservation Officers Contact List.

Tax Incentives

As an incentive for private landowners to protect archaeological sites on their lands, the state offers a property tax exemption if the landowner formally agrees to protect the site. See more details About the Archaeological Sites Property Tax Exemption Program.

Wisconsin Land Trusts and Land Conservation Organizations

Joining a Wisconsin land trust or another land conservation organization is a great way to preserve our shared heritage and celebrate Wisconsin's deeply rooted preservation efforts.

Learn More

Have Questions?

Contact the Office of the State Archaeologist by phone at 608-264-6496 or by email below: