Metal Detecting Federal Laws
U.S. law includes a number of legislative acts that affect how federal lands are enjoyed and impacted. These acts impact metal detecting because finds typically must be excavated. Even if they are just below the surface, some amount of digging is usually required.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 was written before metal detectors existed; however, the law still exists and states that it is illegal to “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. Known and marked historical sites, historical parks, and historical monuments are off-limits to all metal detecting.
The 1966 National Historic Preservation Act
The 1966 National Historic Preservation Act is a far-reaching work of preservation by the federal government, intended to protect historical and archaeological sites.
The act created the National Register of Historic Places and although initially focused on structures, this act also impacts rural areas that may have historical significance and further promotes the stringent preservation and cataloging of Native American cultural items.
1987 Abandoned Shipwreck Act (ASA)
Law of 1987 that establishes government ownership over the majority of abandoned shipwrecks located in waters of the United States of America and creates a framework within which shipwrecks are managed. Enacted in 1988, it affirms the authority of State governments to claim and manage abandoned shipwrecks on State submerged lands. It makes the laws of salvage and finds not apply to any shipwreck covered under the Act and asserts that shipwrecks are multiple-use resources.
Under the statute, the US Government asserted title to three classes of abandoned shipwrecks located within three nautical miles of the US coastline and in the internal navigable waters of the United States. The Act covers abandoned shipwrecks that are embedded in submerged lands, abandoned shipwrecks that are embedded in coralline formations protected by a State, and abandoned shipwrecks that are on submerged lands and included in or determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Upon asserting title to these shipwrecks, the US Government transferred its title to the government entity that owns the submerged lands containing the shipwrecks. As a result, State governments have title to shipwrecks located on State lands, the US Government has title to shipwrecks located on Federal lands, and Indian tribes have title to shipwrecks located on Indian lands. However, the US Government continues to hold title to sunken US warships and other shipwrecks entitled to Sovereign Immunity, no matter where the vessels are located. Such vessels are not affected by the statute.
Excerted from Encyclopedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology, edited by James P. Delgado, British Museum Press, London, 1997.
The 1997 Archaeological Resources Protection Act further governs any excavation on federal and Native American lands and controls the removal of archaeological artifacts from those sites.
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 defines an “archaeological resource” to include “weapons, projectiles and tools.” This law makes it illegal to pick up, disturb, or dig up any artifacts that are more than 100 years old on federal property.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Public Law 101-601; 25 U.S.C. 3001-3013) describes the rights of Native American lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations with respect to the treatment, repatriation, and disposition of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony, referred to collectively in the statute as cultural items, with which they can show a relationship of lineal descent or cultural affiliation.
Metal detectors are banned in all US federal and national parks. Additionally, no monuments or historical sites allow you to use a metal detector on their grounds.
Additionally, in theory, you could be arrested for simply having a metal detector in your vehicle.