General Archeology FAQ

Q: Can I use a metal detector on public property in Texas?

A: State law prohibits the collection of artifacts from public property without an antiquities permit, which the THC issues only to qualified professional archeologists. Metal detection hobbyists should reach out directly to the owner of the property on which they wish to detect for permission and permitting as appropriate, for both public and private landowners.

Q. I may have an archeological site on my property. What should I do?

A: The Texas Historical Commission's (THC) Archeology Division has regional archeologists who can assist private landowners in identifying and recording archeological sites. Members of the THC’s Texas Archeological Stewardship Network can also assist property owners. For assistance, contact the THC’s Archeology Division.

Q. I think I found a dinosaur track. Can THC archeologists assist me?

A:Dinosaur tracks and other fossils that predate human occupation are the concerns of paleontologists, not archeologists. Contact the nearest university with a geology department for assistance.

Q. If I let an archeologist record or study an archeological site on my land, will I risk losing my property?

A: No. The THC has no legal authority to acquire property through eminent domain. THC regional archeologists work with landowners and can recommend voluntary actions to take to protect and preserve important sites. Protective measures, including designations and easements are most effective when landowners understand what archeological resources occur on their property and where they are located.

Q. Isn’t there a law that protects important archeological sites?

A: Certain laws and regulations govern public lands. No legal protection applies to private property unless the landowner voluntarily chooses to have a specific site designated as a State Antiquities Landmark or protected by a conservation easement. For more information about the protection of archeological sites, see our section on Review.

Q. What can be done about looting of an archeological site?

A: If the site is on public property, the appropriate authorities should be notified so they can prosecute the offenders. If the site is on private property, the landowner should definitely be informed. The THC’s regional archeologists are also available to consult with landowners about protective measures.

Q. Where can I learn more about Texas archeology?

A: Current Archeology in Texas is a biannual THC publication containing articles about recent archeological research in Texas. For a copy, contact the Archeology Division or call 512-463-6090.

The THC’s Medallion magazine often includes features on Texas archeology and of course, the THC web site includes information about the agency's archeological programs and activities.

The Texas Archeological Society (TAS) offers hands-on opportunities for the interested layperson through the annual field school held each June. The TAS also sponsors an annual conference each fall and provides each member with an annual journal and a quarterly newsletter. The TAS web site also features information about local and regional archeological societies in Texas that offer lectures and fieldwork opportunities for members.

Also, the month of October—Texas Archeology Month—is when numerous organizations, institutions and individuals organize special events in communities across the state. As October approaches, check the THC web site for the calendar of events!

Q. I have some artifacts I have collected over the years. Are they important?

A: Artifact collections have the potential to shed important light on the sites from which they were collected. An important factor is if artifacts from specific sites were labeled or kept separately from other site collections. If so, then archeologists can study and compare the collections with other artifacts retrieved from the same site or area. Collections that lack this information have either limited or no research value. While the artifacts may be interesting to look at, without identification and location information, they tell us little or nothing about past occupations at a specific locale.

Marine Archeology FAQ

Q. I think I just found a shipwreck. What should I do?

A: First and most important, do not disturb the wreck in any way. Do not dig on or around it or remove any items from it. Removal of artifacts causes significant loss of the archeological record and therefore is prohibited by the Antiquities Code of Texas. The only exception to this prohibition is for archeological study under an Antiquities Permit issued by the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Please contact the State Marine Archeologist or one of the marine stewards. The wreck may already be in the state's inventory, or you may have discovered an unrecorded wreck. Your assistance is greatly appreciated by the THC.

Q. I think I know where to find a shipwreck carrying gold. How much can I keep?

A: According to the Antiquities Code of Texas, the shipwreck and everything associated with it belongs to the state of Texas. Removal of artifacts, except under permit for archeological investigation issued by the THC, is prohibited by the Antiquities Code. Any artifacts recovered under a permit remain the property of the state and must be placed at an approved curatorial facility once the permit activities are complete. The THC maintains responsibility for the artifacts and insures they are held in trust for the people of Texas.

Q. I would like to get involved in looking for shipwrecks. What can I do to help?

A: Several volunteer groups in Texas assist the State Marine Archeologist with shipwreck investigations. Both divers and non-divers can help. A special training course is offered by the marine stewards to familiarize divers with wreck recording techniques and ship construction terminology. Contact one of the marine stewards or the State Marine Archeologist for more information.

Q. I'm a treasure hunter and want to operate in Texas. What do I need to do?

A: Historic shipwrecks in Texas cannot be disturbed except under an Antiquities Permit issued by the THC. Permits are issued for scientific investigations only and are issued to qualified archeologists. No provisions exist in the Antiquities Code of Texas for a split of recovered artifacts; everything recovered belongs to the state of Texas.