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antiquities act of 1906

Antiquities Actof 1906

“That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected…”

-June 8, 1906

national monument
National Monument?

Here in the US of A, we have national parks, national forests, national wilderness areas, and - to make things even more confusing - national monuments. The difference between the latter and the formers is that the President can declare a monument without an act of Congress, and he/she can declare it instantly, without all the fun bureaucracy!

Pictured is our first national monument, Devils Tower. Located in Wyoming, it was declared a national monument by Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906. This was only weeks after Roosevelt signed the Act into law. Also, Devils Tower co-starred alongside Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

theodore roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt was a huge conservationist. The 5 national parks, over 170 national forests, 4 national game preserves, and 51 federal bird reservations he created are all a part of his great legacy. Not to mention his 18 national monuments…

Natural Bridges - UT April 16, 1908

Gila Cliff Dwellings - NM November 16, 1907

Roosevelt was able to utilize all of these agencies…


Well, stuff was getting destroyed. For example, in New Mexico, the Aztec Ruins were being… well, ruined. Interest in archeological remains was growing in the 19th century, specifically in the Southwest United States (Arizona, New Mexico). Unfortunately, much of this interest was coming from individuals with no respect for the actual history of the area and more of an interest in a lucky find or an easy profit. The issue of whether or not to protect these areas was first brought to the U.S. Senate in 1882, by Senator George F. Hoar. Arguments ensued over conservation vs. public use, but 24 years later the Antiquities Act became law

Aztec Ruins – NM January 24, 1923

Sen. George F. Hoar (R-MA)

since june 8 1906
Since June 8, 1906…

over 100 monuments have been declared, in almost 30 states.

every President has used the Act, in one way or another.

there have been many controversies related to the act.

Pictured is Mount Rushmore, in Rapid City, South Dakota. It was declared on March 3, 1925. The carving was not completed until 1941, however!

dude where s our monument
Dude, where’s our monument?!?!

Ever since Presidents started giving out monuments, every state has wanted one. While some states make off like bandits in the monument game (cough Arizona cough), many others feel left out, completely monument-less. Listed below are some monument-less states. You have no reason to ever visit these states.

  • Arkansas 0 monuments
  • Delaware 0 monuments
  • Hawaii 0 monuments
  • Indiana 0 monuments
  • Pennsylvania 0 monuments
  • Wisconsin 0 monuments

Even the Virgin Islands have a national monument, but not Wisconsin!

grand portage national monument declared on january 27 1960
Grand Portage National MonumentDeclared on January 27, 1960

Grand Portage commemorates the popular route many 18th century fur traders used, which eventually led to the exploration of North America. This also led to cultural contact between the Ojibwe tribes in northern Minnesota. Sadly, the fur trade is not what it used to be.

The center of the once flourishing fur trade, North West Company.

“witch tree”

pipestone national monument declared on august 25 1937
Pipestone National MonumentDeclared on August 25, 1937

Pipestone National Monument was created to honor Native American history. For years, the Sioux tribes would come to this place and quarry the pipestone; a soft, red, compacted clay that is easily carved and polished. The tribes would find many uses for the pipestone, peace pipes were the most popular.

Pipestone Oracle

Pipestone Quarry

Winnewissa Falls of Pipestone Creek


Since the Antiquities Act, there have been two big controversies: the declaration of Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943, and the declaration of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996.

“A desk? Outside? How convenient!”

Most of the controversial Jackson Hole land has been added to Grand Teton National Park.

jackson hole
Jackson Hole

In 1929, Congress created Grand Teton National Park, thanks in great part to a man named John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Years later, in 1943, Rockefeller purchased even more land in the area. Hoping to add this land to the park, President Roosevelt looked to Congress for support...

Congress: “No!”

President: “Oh yeah, well I’ll turn the land into a national monument!”

Congress: “Oh yeah, well we’ll pass a bill revoking the monument status!”

President: “Oh yeah, well I’ll veto that bill!”

Congress: “Oh yeah, well we’ll pass a bill that blocks all funding towards the monument!”

Many years later, under the Truman Administration, an agreement was made. Most of the land was added to Grand Teton National Park and the monument was annulled.

grand staircase escalante
Grand Staircase-Escalante

After President Clinton declared Grand Staircase-Escalante on September 18, 1996, many people became furious. Some were upset at the size of the monument; at 1.7 million acres, it was the largest monument in the lower 48. Others questioned whether or not the area needed protection. Most, however, were upset at the secrecy that took place. Neither the Governor, the Utah Congress, nor the people of Utah were told about the plans.

Many people, suspicious with the timing of the event, thought the declaration was used as a way to get votes, as the declaration came only weeks before the 1996 election.

Grand Staircase-Escalante – UT September 18, 1996

Clinton said coal mining operations could damage resources in the area.

Presidents love using the Grand Canyon for photo ops!

n a g p r a

NAGPRA? What the heck is NAGPRA?!?! Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

Although the intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect our resources, its nasty side-effect was that it often turned Native American burial grounds into archeological resources for scientific study. These “resources” would often be excavated, preserved and put into a museum. This led to thousands of natives being dug up over many, many years.

So what does NAGPRA do? It returned human remains and/or items of great significance to any Native American tribe that could prove lineal descent to the remains. All federally-funded institutions were given until 1995 to inventory their items and decide whose they were.

President George H. W. Bush signed NAGPRA into law on November 16, 1990

On March 6, 1997, the Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society carried out its first repatriation. In the picture, the museum’s director is returning a medicine man’s rattle to Arvol Looking Horse, a descendent of the original owner, Elk Head.


Because of the controversies, some small changes have been made to the Antiquities Act, while many other amendments to the Act have failed.

After the controversy in 1943, Congress amended the Act to say that no national monuments could be declared in Wyoming without an act of Congress.

After the controversy in 1996 many bills were introduced (H.R. 1487 and H.R. 4121). H.R. 1487 would have made public participation in declaring national monuments mandatory, thus severely limiting the power of the President. H.R. 4121 would have amended the Act to say “no land may be designated as a national monument under this section by the same President more than once.”

H.R. 1487 passed overwhelmingly in the House (408-2), but has only collected dust since being sent up to the Senate.

H.R. 4121 never passed…

is that all the antiquities act does
Is that all the Antiquities Act does?

Well, no…

“…that any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.”

-June 8, 1906

vandalism is bad
Vandalism is bad!

So… if you steal or destroy any artifacts from the protected area, or the protected area itself, you could be fined or imprisoned.

However, is $500 enough of a deterrent? By the 1970’s, “pothunters” across the country were making as much as $10,000 off a single artifact. Let’s do the math…

  • $10,000 - for one jar
  • $500.00 - if I get caught
  • $9,500 - profit!

Even though Ctonic is not a national monument, you do not have the right to spray-paint it.

not only that
Not only that…

…but enforcement was very rare. From 1906 to 1970, prosecutors nationwide made only 18 convictions - $4,000 in fines and two jail terms. Clearly, something needed to change.

In 1979, Congress passed the Archeological Resources Protection Act. This changed things from a ninety-day jail term to a two-year jail term and from a $500 fine to a $20,000 fine; and this was just for a first offense.

Though plundering did go down, antiquities sales are second only to narcotics on the black market, making over $1 billion a year.

We all know what happened when the Nazis from Indiana Jones tried stealing antiquities.

let s wrap things up
Let’s wrap things up!

Who signed the Antiquities Act into law? When?

What major concerns led to the creation of the Antiquities Act?

What are two major functions of the Antiquities Act?

How many national monuments are located in Minnesota? Can you name them?

These “Presidents of the United States” cannot declare a national monument. Say what?!?!

President Clinton designated the Missouri Breaks (left) in Montana as a national monument in January 2001. The monument encompasses 377,246 acres along 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River. The Breaks, just like every other Clinton designation, is run by the B.L.M.


Antiquities Act of 1906. Thursday, October 14, 2004.

Bureau of Land Management. Thursday, October 14, 2004.

Grand Portage National Monument. Monday, November 08, 2004.

McManamon, Francis P. The Antiquities Act: Setting Basic Preservation Policies. Sunday, October 17, 2004.

National Monuments. Thursday, October 14, 2004.

National Monuments and the Antiquities Act. Thursday, October 28, 2004.

National Park Service. Thursday, October 14, 2004.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Sunday, October 17, 2004.

Pipestone National Monument. Monday, November 8, 2004.

United States. Congress. Antiquities Act of 1906: Report Together With Minority Views (To Accompany H.R. 1487). Y 1.1/5:S.RPT.106-250.

United States. Congress. Behind Closed Doors: The Abuse of Trust and Discretion in the Establishment of the Grand Staircase. Y 4.R 31/3:105-D.

United States. Congress. National Monument Public Participation Act of 1999. Y 4.EN 2:S.HRG 106-27