Laws and Regulations

Cultural Resources


Antiquities Act of 1906

  • Authorizes Federal departments to grant permits for survey and excavation and to enforce protection of archeological sites and objects under their jurisdiction.
  • Requires that excavated materials be permanently preserved in public museums.

National Stolen Property Act of 1948

Management of Museum Properties Act of 1955

  • Applies to the National Park Service and Interior Museum

Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960, (Archeological and Historical Conservation Act of 1974)

  • Provides for the recovery and preservation of “historical and archeological data (including relics and specimens)” that might be lost or destroyed as a result of the construction of dams and reservoirs through the National Park Service.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA)

  • Directs the Secretary of the Interior to issue regulations to ensure that significant prehistoric and historic artifacts, and associated records are deposited in an institution with adequate long-term curatorial capabilities.
  • Sets inventory, nomination, protection, and preservation responsibilities for Federally-owned cultural properties in Section 110.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended

Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 (AHPA)

  • Extends the application of the Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960 to recover and preserve “historical and archeological data (including relics and specimens)” that might be lost or destroyed as a result of any Federal construction project or Federally-licensed activity or program.

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)

  • Requires that information on the nature and location of resources on public and Indian lands remain confidential if its release may harm the resources. This may be applicable to information in the associated records of an archaeological project, which must be protected when the location or nature of the resources is requested for research or other legitimate use and its release may harm the resource.
  • States that archaeological resources excavated from public lands will remain the property of the United States, and the material remains and copies of associated records will be preserved in a suitable university, museum, or other scientific or educational institution.
  • Authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to issue regulations for the exchange, where appropriate, between suitable universities, museums, or other scientific or educational institutions, of archaeological resources removed from public lands and Indian lands.
  • Gives the Secretary of the Interior authority for the ultimate disposition of archaeological resources from public lands.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA), as amended

  • Provides for Native American tribes and individuals, or Native Hawaiian Organizations, to claim Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony that were excavated or discovered on Federal or tribal lands after passage of NAGPRA.
  • Establishes criminal penalties for trafficking in cultural items obtained in violation of the law. DOI bureaus may take custody of human remains and/or cultural items that were illegally trafficked in violation of the law and, after any criminal penalties are issued by prosecutors and approval for transfer is granted, may assume responsibility for such items until appropriate consultation with tribes occurs and ultimate disposition is determined.
  • Requires Federal agencies and museums receiving Federal funding to review their collections for any items subject to NAGPRA, consult with tribes, determine cultural affiliations, and repatriate such items to tribes and/or individuals.



Curation of Federally-Owned and Administered Archeological Collections, 36 CFR 79

  • Outlines the responsibilities of Federal agencies to manage and preserve archeological collections.
  • Identifies methods for Federal agencies to use to secure and fund curatorial services.
  • States terms and conditions for Federal agencies to include in contracts, memoranda, agreements, and other written instruments with repositories for curatorial services.
  • Establishes standards for Federal agencies to use to determine the capabilities of a repository to provide long-term curatorial services.
  • Provides guidelines for use of archeological collections.
  • Specifies procedures and guidelines for conducting periodic inspections and inventories of archeological collections.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Regulations, 43 CFR 10

  • Places responsibility on Federal agencies and other institutions receiving Federal funds that have possession or control of items subject to NAGPRA to ensure that statutory requirements are met for all collections from Federal lands or generated by agency actions.
  • Requires that museums and Federal agencies draft and submit summaries and inventories for all items subject to NAGPRA that are in Federal agency possession and/or control.
  • Outlines the requirements for intentional excavation and inadvertent discoveries of items subject to NAGPRA from Federal or tribal lands.
  • Applies to all collections and future holdings of Federal agencies and museums that receive Federal funding.

Preservation of American Antiquities, 43 CFR 3

  • Authorizes Federal land managers to seize materials recovered illegally from archeological resources located on Federal lands. Directs Federal land managers to dispose of seized materials by depositing them in the proper national depository or by other means.
  • Requires that every collection recovered under the Antiquities Act be preserved in a public museum as designated in the respective permit, and be accessible to the public.
  • Identifies procedures for the transfer of Antiquities Act permitted collections in the event that the depository housing such collections ceases to exist.

Protection of Archaeological Resources, 43 CFR 7

  • Implementing regulations for ARPA.
  • Requires that for a repository to house archeological collections, as proposed in an ARPA permit, it must certify in writing its willingness to assume curatorial responsibility for the collections, and to safeguard and preserve the collections as property of the United States.
  • Requires that Federal land managers specify in ARPA permits the name of the repository in which collections are to be deposited.
  • Specifies that archeological resources excavated or removed from public lands remain the property of the United States, and that archeological resources excavated or removed from Indian lands remain the property of the Indian or Indian tribe having rights of ownership over such resources.
  • Authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to issue regulations for the curation of Federally-owned and administered collections. In the absence of such regulations Federal land managers are authorized to provide for the exchange of collections among suitable repositories.

Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards #29 (2005)

  • Changes the classification of information reported for heritage assets and stewardship land in SFFAS No. 8 Supplementary Stewardship Reporting.
  • Reclassifies all heritage assets and stewardship land information as basic except for condition information, which is reclassified as required supplementary information.
  • Requires that Federal agencies disclose information about heritage assets and stewardship land as a note on the balance sheet, but without an asset dollar amount. Instead, the note disclosure must provide a description of major categories of heritage assets, physical units added and withdrawn during the year, a description of the methods of acquisition and withdrawal, and condition information. DOI museum collections are considered to be heritage assets.
  • Requires additional reporting disclosures regarding Federal agency stewardship policies and the relevance of heritage assets to the agency mission.


Executive Orders

Executive Order 11593--Protection and Enhancement of the Cultural Environment (1971)

Back to Top


Natural Resources


Lacey Act of 1900

  • Places stipulations on the importing and labeling of wildlife and their parts.
  • Poses complex problems for museums in relation to the acquisition and disposal of wildlife materials and the sale of wildlife materials in museum shops because it is hard to prove the legal history of such pieces.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

  • Makes it illegal to kill, capture, collect, possess, buy, sell, ship, import, or export listed species including their parts, nests, and eggs, but allows museums and non-commercial institutions to obtain permits for legal possession, collection, and transportation of objects. The permits, however, impose extensive record-keeping requirements.
  • States that only museums and other specified institutions can purchase any protected bird, or part thereof, and the seller must possess a Federal permit for legal sale.

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940

  • Prohibits and imposes civil and criminal penalties for taking, buying, selling, trading, possessing, importing, or exporting of eagles or their parts, nests, eggs, or products made of them. The legality of potential acquisition or possession of eagles or their parts, nests, eggs, or products made of them must be considered.
  • Authorizes permits for taking, possessing, and transporting eagles and their parts for scientific, exhibition, and Native American religious purposes. Permits must be obtained to take, possess, and transport eagles and their parts for purposes of science or exhibition.
  • Requires permits for any materials acquired by museums after the law was enacted.

Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972

  • Requires permits for exhibiting marine mammals and their parts and for holding them in storage.
  • Exempts museums from permit requirements for pre-Act materials or to purchase legitimate handcrafts, although they should consider getting permits for all other marine mammal materials.

Endangered Species Act of 1973

  • Requires museums to have a permit to purchase more recent objects that contain parts of endangered or threatened species.
  • Allows gifts of endangered or threatened specimens to museums if there is proof of pre-Act ownership and if the objects have not been offered for sale since the date of this law.
  • Allows loans or gifts between educational institutions. Permits are not required in such instances, even if the objects cross state lines.

Federal Cave Protection Act of 1988

Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009

  • States that the Secretary of the Interior must manage and protect paleontological resources on Federal land using scientific principles and expertise.
  • States that the Secretary of the Interior will establish a program to increase public awareness about the significance of paleontological resources.
  • Prohibits collecting paleontological resources from Federal land without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior.
  • Allows “casual collecting” of invertebrate and plant paleontological resources on some Federal lands without a permit.
  • Provides for paleontological resources collected under a permit to remain the property of the United States.
  • States that any paleontological resource and any data and associated records collected under a permit are to be preserved for the public in an approved repository, to be made available for scientific research and public education.
  • Prohibits excavation, removal, damage, alteration, defacing, or any attempt to excavate, remove, damage or otherwise alter or deface any paleontological resources located on Federal land, unless authorized by permit.
  • States that the Secretary of the Interior may transfer administration, including ownership, of seized paleontological resources to Federal or non-Federal educational institutions to be used for scientific or educational purposes.

Back to Top


Archives and Records


Federal Records Act of 1950

  • Requires that the head of each Federal agency make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency.
  • States that the head of each Federal agency is responsible for establishing safeguards against the removal or loss of records determined to be necessary and required by the Archivist.
  • Prohibits unlawful removal, defacement, alteration, or destruction of records in the custody of the agency.

Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (FOIA)

  • Outlines what information should be published and available to the public including for inspection and copying.
  • Does not apply to museum collections and museum records, with the exception of Federal records that are managed in museum collections (such as NPS resource management records).
  • Exempts Federal records from FOIA that are protected by laws, such as ARPA, NHPA, and the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998. These laws allow withholding of information on the nature and location of certain resources that might be in associated records.

Disposal of Records of 1968

  • Defines “records” and distinguishes them from “museum materials.”
  • Outlines procedures for determining what type of records may be disposed of and the manner of disposal.

Preservation, Arrangement, Duplication, Exhibition of Records of 1968

  • Requires that the Archivist provide for the preservation, arrangement, repair, rehabilitation, duplication, and reproduction (including microcopy publications), description, and exhibition of records or other documentary material, including the preparation and publication of inventories, indexes, catalogs, and other finding aids or guides to facilitate their use.
  • States that the Archivist may, when approved, create finding aids for Federal records and other collections.

Copyright Act of 1976

  • Defines the scope and application of copyright protection to original works of authorship including literary works, musical works, dramatic works, pantomimes and choreographic works, pictorial, graphical and sculptural works, audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works.
  • States that the United States Government may not hold copyrights on work produced by the Federal government, but can receive and hold copyrights transferred to the Government by assignment, bequest, or otherwise. This applies to museum objects that are donated or bequested to a DOI bureau/office.



Federal Records - General, 36 CFR 1220

  • Requires Federal agencies to be responsible for establishing and maintaining a records management program that complies with National Archives and Records Administration and General Services Administration regulations and guidance.

Federal Records - Implementing Disposition, 36 CFR 1226

  • Provides implementation regulations for the proper scheduling of records dispositions and retention of temporary records.

Federal Records - Records Disposition Programs, 36 CFR 1224
Outlines implementation regulations for an effective records disposition program.

Records Management, 380 DM

  • Defines the Departmental Records Management Program and assigns responsibilities for managing Departmental records.
  • Requires that the Director of Administrative Services for the Office of the Secretary and Heads of Bureaus be responsible for establishing and maintaining active and continuing records management programs for their organizations.
  • Identifies the responsibility of the Secretary of the Interior to make and preserve records containing adequate documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and the Department’s essential transactions, and to provide the information necessary to protect the Department’s legal and financial rights.

Back to Top




Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949, as amended

  • Establishes uniform procedures for the procurement and supply of personal property and nonpersonal services, including related functions such as contracting, inspection, storage, specifications, property identification and classification, transportation, and traffic management.
  • Establishes procedures for the use of available property, the disposal of surplus property, and records management.

Federal Property Management Regulations, 41 CFR 101

  • Outlines regulations, policies, procedures, and delegations of authority about the management of Federal property.


Back to Top


External Links and More Information

American Alliance of Museums
Standards Regarding the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era

  • Museum industry standards upheld by the American Alliance of Museums regarding Nazi-era objects and art.

Anthropology Resources

  • Lengthy list of detailed domestic and international cultural property laws and regulations.

Conservation Online
Copyright and Intellectual Property

  • Resource for copyright and intellectual property rights in museum collections.

Stolen Works of Art

  • International database of stolen works of art.

National Archives and Records Administration
NARA Basic Laws and Authorities

  • Basic federal laws and regulations regarding archival material.

National Park Service
National NAGPRA

  • Resources from the National Park Service regarding NAGPRA for federal institutions.

Preserve America Executive Order

  • A national cooperative initiate signed by President George W. Bush to promote the preservation of the United States’ heritage assets.

World Intellectual Property Association
Museums and Copyright

  • Resource for copyright laws and issues.


Back to Top