The state of Mississippi is rich in archaeological resources—artifacts left by various cultures over the past 12,000 years. MDAH’s Archaeology Section identifies, registers, and protects these cultural resources through historic preservation programming.
Archaeological sites have been reported in all 82 counties, and have a wide range of resource types that include prehistoric scatters of stone tools and/or pottery, temporary camps, villages, single and multiple mound sites, fishweirs, colonial houses and forts, shipwrecks, abandoned cemeteries, farmsteads, towns and industrial sites.
Through the National Historic Preservation Act and the Antiquities Law of Mississippi, MDAH is responsible for the survey, inventory, and review of potential impacts to archaeological resources. One of the Archaeology Section’s primary responsibilities is to ensure the consideration and preservation of cultural resources in public development projects through the Section 106 process.
Archaeological Records and Research
The department’s archaeological records are available to archaeological consultants in the Archaeological Search Room on the second floor of the Charlotte Capers Archives and History Building, 100 South State Street.
Archaeological Reports Archive
MDAH has published more than thirty-nine archaeological reports since 1970. Each report examines a specific excavation in the state and includes features and artifacts found at the site.
Professional archaeologists and state and federal agencies are responsible for Section 106 and Antiquities Law compliance in the state. Find forms and guidelines to help you navigate cultural resource management laws and regulations.
Investigating any archaeological site on public property requires a permit from MDAH’s Board of Trustees. In addition, archaeologists are required to follow all state and federal legislation concerning archaeological sites and the treatment of Native American human remains encountered during archaeological investigations. Our staff is here to help you stay in compliance.
Due to the complexity of interpreting archaeological sites, specialized expertise is required for cultural resource professionals. We follow the qualifications outlined in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines: Archaeology and Historic Preservation’s Professional Qualification Standards.
Cemeteries connect us to the past whether we are caring for our ancestors’ burial place, memorializing a historic event or person, or researching our roots. If you or your group is interested learning more about how to preserve and protect an abandoned cemetery in your community, read more.
Frequently Asked Questions
How old is this arrowhead that I found on my property? What if I find a dugout canoe in a creek? Find the answers to these questions and more on our Archaeology FAQ below.
- How do I report a site on my land?
If you find what may be a site on your land, MDAH archaeologists will be glad to assist you in documenting the site for our records. We ask that you make a record of where the site is located on an accurate map, such as a USGS 7.5” topographic map, USDA soil maps, or a highway map. Ideally, if possible, document the UTM coordinates (most cellular phones now contain this information on apps such as Google Maps and Bing) and contact the Archaeological Site File Registrar for assistance.
- If I report a site on my land, will the state limit what I can do or try to take over my property?
No. MDAH archaeologists are interested in recording the site’s location and artifacts from your site, and cannot confiscate your property. However, we are interesting in protecting sites from destructions and can provide guidance to landowners in methods to preserve important sites. If you are a landowner seeking guidance to preserve your site, please contact MDAH Archaeology at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What should I do if I find a site on private property?
First, make sure that you have written permission to be on the owner’s land. Never take anything from a site or disturb it in any way unless the landowner has given permission (in writing) and you know how to keep a careful record of what is removed. It can be a trespassing violation to gather artifacts on private property with the written permission of the landowner. See https://law.justia.com/citations.html MS Code §39-7-31
- What should I do if I find artifacts or a site on state or federal land?
If you find artifacts on publicly owned land, report the location to the agency manager or MDAH Archaeology. Archaeological sites on State-owned lands are protected under Mississippi Code 39-7-11, which states that any archaeological sites found on state-owned lands are considered Mississippi Landmarks. Archaeological sites found on federally owned lands are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, also known as ARPA. Removing artifacts from state or federal lands is illegal, punishable by fines and/or jail.
- If I report a site, will it become public record?
Yes and no. Yes, the general information about the site will be available to the public as well as professional archaeologists and government agency planners. No, the specific information about site locations is protected information. Records of MDAH are public, but information about archaeological site locations is protected by law and exempted from Freedom of Information Act requests. Site location information is kept confidential so that site owners will not be disturbed with trespassers, and sites will not be damaged or destroyed by vandals.
- What should I do if I find artifacts at a site?
Only collect artifacts from private property with the landowner’s written permission. If the artifacts are on land owned by a city, county, or state, please contact MDAH Archaeology and leave the artifacts in place. If you collect artifacts from an archaeological site, it is very important to keep good records. You should notate each of your sites on an accurate map (see FAQ - How do I report a site on my land). Be sure to keep artifacts from different sites separated. Label each of your pieces in a way that will tell you from which site they came. For example, mark your own site name or number on artifact containers with indelible ink.
- If I find artifacts on top of the ground, should I dig to see what else is there?
Please refrain from digging at archaeological sites. The locations of the artifacts and other fragile archaeological remains are evidence of the behavior of the people who made them. Only through careful, scientific excavation can the archaeologist recover and interpret the evidence. Archaeological sites are considered “non-renewable resources”: once a site is excavated or disturbed in any way, the information the site contained is no longer available and cannot be gained from another source.
- Will the state confiscate my artifacts?
No. By state law, artifacts found on private property belong to the landowner. MDAH archaeologists are interested in recording private collections to add to the MDAH database and to aid our understanding of the past. MDAH does accept donations of some artifact for permanent curation and future study; however, these collections must be clearly marked as to their provenience. For further guidance on donating your collection to MDAH, learn more at Collections.
- What should I do if I find a burial or what looks like human bone on top of the ground?
If you believe you have found a burial or human bone on the surface of the ground, call your local law enforcement as soon as possible. A deputy or police officer will be sent to your location to determine if it is an active crime scene. If the burial or exposed remains are determined to be a historic burial, the county coroner should be contacted for further guidance. If the remains are determined to be prehistoric, please contact MDAH archaeology at email@example.com for further guidance as soon as possible.
MDAH is only responsible for prehistoric remains. Recent and historic remains fall under the responsibility of the county coroner.
- What should I do if I find someone trespassing on or looting from a site located on my land?
Call 911 immediately if you find someone who is trespassing or looting on your lands. Do not approach the looter(s) or do anything that will endanger yourself. Direct law enforcement to the location of the trespasser and answer any further questions they might have regarding the investigation.
- Who should I contact if I see someone looting on state-owned or federally-owned lands?
You should call the appropriate agency law enforcement as soon as it is safe to do so and report your location, the name of the facility/park you are located, and a general description of the individual to law enforcement. DO NOT approach the looter(s) or do anything that will endanger yourself. Be sure to provide contact information to the assigned officer so that they can contact you if they have additional questions in their investigation.