The American Antiquities Act of 1906 was the first major step in a mission to preserve America’s cultural heritage. The Act provides for fines and the imprisonment of those who harm, destroy, excavate, or take any historic ruin or monument or object of antiquity located on federal land. The President of the United States is given authorization to declare historic landmarks, structures, and objects to be national monuments. Finally, the Act allows for permissions to be granted to members of the archaeological, scientific, and educational communities for the examination, excavation, and gathering of the historic sites or objects in the interest of preservation.
In the Historic Sites Act of 1935, Congress declared it a national policy to preserve the historic sites, buildings, and objects that hold special significance to the American people. The Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, was granted the power to engage in various activities for the study, acquisition, and preservation of such sites, buildings, and objects.
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 aimed to preserve archaeological resources and sites on public lands and Indian lands. Preservation as an “archaeological resource” is limited to specified items that are at least 100 years old. Mainly, the Act seeks to prevent the looting, destruction, and defacement of archaeological resources, and provides for criminal and civil sanctions for those engaging in such violative activities.
In recognition of America’s cultural roots, and the need to preserve for posterity the historical resources reflecting America’s heritage, the National Historic Preservation Act created a system to identify historical properties and ensure their preservation through awareness of their status as such. The Act created the National Register of Historic Places whereby significant historical properties were recognized as national landmarks and cataloged. Having been so cataloged, an advisory council was created to monitor and comment on the activities of federal agencies and their effect on the registered properties. Additionally, preservation responsibilities were allocated to the states by the Act through authorized state historic preservation systems.
One of the specified goals of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 is to preserve significant historical, cultural, and natural aspects of American heritage. A prominent feature of the Act is its method of accountability for federal actions. Per the Act, appropriate federal officials are required to consult with any federal agency that has jurisdiction or special expertise with respect to an environmental impact caused by the federal action.