The Wonderful World Of... Blog

It’s a Crime

Thieves have been robbing historical sites for thousands of years. Many people think it is okay to take artifacts and ecofacts if they find them in the wild, but stealing and looting objects from archaeological sites is a crime. What you may have thought was harmless collecting takes away from the archaeological record. Political unrest in the Middle East, South America, and Africa have led to the destruction of archaeological sites at a faster rate than any other time in recorded history. The United States also has an issue related to the illicit international trade of looted pottery, stone tools, and even human remains. The removal of these cultural resources takes away context and archaeologists’ ability to uncover the past histories for many cultures.

This pot was damaged when it was being looted. The repairs were then poorly done and actually mask information that would have been obtained during a proper excavation.

Taking even one artifact from a site can be detrimental to understanding the complete picture that site may have told. Archaeologists depend on context, which is the relationship between all cultural resources and artifacts found at a site, and it is imperative to understand what occurred in the past. In 2009, federal agents investigated the looting and sale of Native American cultural resources. Operation Cerberus led to the arrest of 32 people and seizure of more than 40,000 objects. While the objects were found, it was unknown where they came from, and therefore, their historical significance and context was forever lost. In addition to losing context, taking cultural resources also robs the descendants of the indigenous and native peoples that made them.

Some of the laws that help to protect cultural resources and artifacts are:

Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)

ARPA forbids any sales, purchase, exchange, transport, or receipt of cultural material from Federal or Native lands. Those who violate this law face substantial fines and jail time.

California Public Resources Code 5097.5

Artifacts like bottles are important for understanding historic sites. They indicate the date the site was inhabited, what occurred there, and details like the socioeconomic status of the people who lived there.

This law states that no person shall knowingly and willfully excavate upon, or remove, destroy, injure, or deface any historic or prehistoric ruins, burial grounds, archaeological or vertebrate paleontological site, including fossilized footprints, inscriptions made by human agency, rock art, or any other archaeological, paleontological, or historical feature, situated on public lands.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Serves to disclose to the public the significant environmental effects of a proposed discretionary project, through the preparation of an initial study, negative declaration, mitigated negative declaration, or environmental impact report.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

NAGPRA requires that indigenous tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations be consulted whenever archeological investigations encounter, or are expected to encounter, Native American cultural items or when such items are unexpectedly discovered on Federal or tribal lands.

What do you do if you come across cultural resources or artifacts? If you are at a park or monument, tell a ranger or other responsible entity. If the object is obvious and at risk of being stolen, conceal it by hiding it nearby. The ranger or park entity will know what to do next.

It is important to respect Native American cultures and the resources that their ancestors left behind. Educate yourself about the indigenous cultures in your are, and find out more about the land you are occupying. Take what you learn and educate your friends and family. If you encounter looting or the sale of resources or artifacts, notify the authorities.

by Jessica McPheters, Collections Manager

Volunteers work in the Center’s Research Library, cataloguing materials and organizing on a computer-based system.

Marketing and Administrative Volunteers assist the Development Office or Administration Office with data entry, updating marketing materials and clerical tasks. Computer experience is a plus.

Docents welcome visitors and answer general questions regarding the Center and exhibits. Docents staff the gift shop and help out with administrative and curatorial tasks.

Volunteers support event activities at the Center, such as the Annual BBQ, lectures, workshops, and fundraising events. Be a part of the party!

Volunteer provide support for K-12 programs offered at the Center. These are fun, hands-on programs that kids really enjoy. Teaching experience is a plus, but not required. Background checks are required.


With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will use photogrammetry to prepare one or more archaeological collections for digital preservation, as well as create a virtual museum exhibit for our Public Archaeology department. Per approval, special projects of the intern’s choosing are also available. During the research and planning, the intern will receive guidance as appropriate to their selected project. Prospective interns should already be familiar with photogrammetric procedures, and Agisoft Metashape.

Collections Management

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will prepare one or more archaeological collections for curation. During the course of the internship, the intern will learn to identify artifacts and ecofacts common to the San Diego region, including lithics, ceramics, historical objects, and faunal, botanical, and mineral specimens. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological laboratory procedures such as basic artifact analysis, manual and computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and preventative conservation. In addition, the intern will become familiar with historical trends in archaeological practice in the San Diego area and will be introduced to current legal and ethical issues in archaeological curation as well as the concerns and rights of culturally affiliated groups with regard to archaeological materials.

Development and Marketing

Under the direction of Center staff, the intern will support the department in various activities, including, but not limited to, fundraising and grant research; e-newsletter development; social media marketing; and website maintenance. This internship will give the intern valuable, real-world experience in non-profit fundraising and marketing.

Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology

Prospective Interns must have completed three courses: Introduction to GIS, GIS Database Management, and Intermediate/Advanced Methods in GIS. The intern will be assigned a project where they will create shapefiles and maps for curated archaeological collections, museum exhibits, and/or public outreach using ArcGIS 10.6. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological GIS laboratory procedures such as computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and database management.

Library Science

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will arrange and catalog materials in the Center’s library. During the course of the internship, the intern will take a leading role in the cataloging, sorting and storing of research files and creating user guides for these collections. Center staff will instruct the intern on archival procedures, computer cataloging, storage requirements, and preventative conservation.

Public Archaeology

Harness your passion for Public Archaeology and gain hands-on experience with K-12 museum field trips, lectures, and public outreach. Additional projects may include creating virtual museum exhibits and activities, assisting in the development and implementation of K-12 curricula programs, planning and presenting public facing content, or educational field trip content of your own design. Must be able to pass a Live Scan.