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Archaeological digs and collections can be intimidating. Where do you find qualified archaeologists to assess the archaeological record at your site? How do you care for artifacts that spent decades buried underground? The resources below demystify many of these issues and will help you develop vocabulary related to archaeological resources that you can use to initiate projects at your site.

General Information

This short essay from the Mississippi Archaeological Association titled “What Is Historical Archaeology?”was intended to reach a public audience and contains a both a clear, useful definition of historical archaeology and an explanation of its benefits to historical understanding (PDF).

SHARD (Sonoma Historic Artifact Research Database) is a free artifact cataloging system developed by the SHA and Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University for early to mid 19th and 20th century archeological sites.  The database software and How To manual (PDF) are available for download.


Even if you are not a historical archaeologist by training, these principles should be followed by anyone who values historical archaeological heritage.

“Ethics Statement,” Society for Historical Archaeology

“Ethical Standards of The Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology,” (PDF) Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology

Archaeological Etiquette Guide from the State Historic Preservation Office, Arizona State Parks clearly outlines illegal acts and encourages public involvement in protecting archaeological resources by providing an 800 number for reporting.  Although this focuses on sites in a desert environment, the guidelines are general enough to be useful in creating your own handout on “archaeological etiquette.”

“Help Us Protect the Cultural Resources and History of the Columbia River Basin”  (PDF) from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation references a region out west, but it might provide you with some inspiration for writing a similar informative pamphlet for your own site that introduces the site and explains how to enjoy it without being destructive.

Archaeological Collections & Curation

Your site’s sherds are out of the ground. Now what? The Society of Historical Archaeology walks you through the basics on processing, managing, and preserving your site’s archaeological materials in Standards and Guidelines for the Curation of Archaeological Collections.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service offer Managing Archaeological Collections,an online distance learning program with the option of receiving a certificate from the Department of the Interior’s “DOI Learn” initiative. Lessons cover everything from curation to project design to laws as they relate to archaeology.

Not sure how to tell the difference between porcelain and earthenware? Need to know the parts of a spur or the origins of a projective point? Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum and the State Museum of Archeology offer this great website, Diagnostic Artifacts in Marylandthat provides excellent guides on how to identify and date a range of archaeological finds.

The Society of Historical Archaeology’s “Common 20th Century Artifacts – A Guide to Dating” will assist you in dating historical sites based on the artifacts found at the site.

Interpretation & Education

Produced by the National Park Service, Archaeology for Interpreters is useful for anyone with a stake in the interpretation and preservation of archaeological artifacts. The guide covers a range of topics such as what archaeologists “do,” “issues of sensitivity,” and artifact analysis. This might be a good web site to assign to site interpreters who must interpret archaeological artifacts but have little background in the subject matter.

“Archaeology Education Programs” from the Alexandria Archaeology Museum includes a variety of adaptable lesson plans including worksheets for elementary students as well as adults.

Are you looking for archaeology activities to prepare for children of all ages who visit your site? The American Institute of Archaeology (AIA) provides several archaeological discovery lesson plans you can recreate with few resources or special expertise.

This set of lesson plans from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) address how archaeologists use artifacts to learn about people in the past, is directed to middle-school students and meets standards in a number of disciplines.

Surveys & Sample Results

The Delaware State Historic Preservation Office provides resources to plan and execute architectural and/or archaeological surveys in the state.

Several historic sites archive digitized archaeological reports on their web sites. They are often unpublished otherwise and provide good examples of what goes into the documentation of a thorough archaeological investigation.

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

James Madison’s Montpelier

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Cemetery Preservation

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission provides information on Pennsylvania cemetery history and preservation. Resources include federal laws protecting burial sites and guidelines for preservation.

State-Specific Documents, Templates, Guidelines


Archaeology in PA


Archaeology in NJ


Archaeology in DE