Is it Legal to Collect Arrowheads on Federal Land?

Posted on June 3, 2013


I have spent some time on arrowhead collecting forums and there was first told that it is legal to hunt arrowheads on Federal land in the US (as opposed to all other forms of collecting/looting that are illegal on Government land). Supposedly there is a loophole called the Carter loophole, named after the former president. Apparently, Carter liked to collected arrowheads so an exception was made to archaeology laws. Recently there was some discussion on the NMAC listserve about this loophole that has been very enlightening:

FYI, the so-called “Arrowhead Exception” was allegedly included in ARPA due to President Carter having a collection of same since his Boy Scouts merit badge days: he’d have to sign the legislation into law. It doesn’t make the collection of arrowheads on Federal or Indian lands legal, but per  16 USC 470 ee (g) exempts them from the penalties of ARPA under 16 USC 470 ee (d). Federal agencies still protect these heritage resources using their Code of Federal Regulations (36 & 43 CFR). Some “misguided public lands abusers” that have been cited and had points/arrowheads taken from them and into evidence have tried to use the exception under ARPA as a legal argument for this collecting to be OK. To date: this has failed as a legal strategy (and I still have some of the points which I use for educational purposes).

More of the responses clarified why collection arrowheads is not legal:

As a retired federal archaeologist, my understanding & experience with this issue were that isolated arrowheads could be collected under ARPA, but this behavior could be (and was) cited by law enforcement as theft of government property.  Also, under ARPA it’s illegal to collect arrowheads located within archaeological sites, which is a major limitation on collecting.  Ignorance of whether an archaeological site was present was not a valid legal defense.
To me, taken all together, these sanctions appear to make it thoroughly illegal to pick up arrowheads on public lands.
An explanation of why people  would be charged with theft of government property was provided by one of the respondents.
Yes, BUT, we & the agencies can fall back on the Organic Act that prohibits converting public property to individual gain.


Finally, there are problems with the definition of arrowheads as pointed out on the listserve
JR is correct but I seem to recall some point collectors decided to test the extent of the law and wound up in federal court within a few years of passage of the act.  Some got off, since they were indeed collecting arrowheads but some others had been collecting paleo points and were convicted.
It appears that those collectors were misinformed about the legality of collecting arrowheads on federal land.  Yes, there is an exception to one law but there are multiple other laws that law enforcement can use to arrest would be collectors. Moreover, the loophole has a loophole in the sense that the difference between an arrowhead and projectile point is blurred. Considering that bow and arrows have only been around for a fraction of human occupation of North America a good portion of ‘arrowheads’ are actually dart/spear/knifes/mutli-tools  and thus not covered by the laws there is a real risk for any collector trying to use this loophole.
edit- This loophole view is not held by every collector and since writing this post have been informed while these views are still expressed many collectors set other collectors straight about the legality, using many of the same facts.
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