The Antiquities Act


This project includes documents related to the history and historical background of the Antiquities Act and its implementation during the century since its enactment. The Antiquities Act was signed into law in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The history of American conservation often is told in terms of legal milestones, and rightly so. An environmental activist working to expand a local park, a historic preservationist trying to save a cherished old building, a volunteer working on a national wilderness campaign, an archaeologist investigating an early human occupation site — all are working from a solid foundation of legislative actions that, law by law, have expanded protections for cultural sites and natural areas. The Antiquities Act marks a critical junctures in our national conservation policy. Arguably, it is the most important of the conservation and preservation statutes, yet it is little known outside of specialist circles.

No other law has had such a wide-ranging influence on the preservation of our nation’s cultural and natural heritage. Why is the Antiquities Act so important? There are four basic reasons:

(1) Creation of national monuments. The Act gives the president the power to unilaterally declare, independent of Congress, protected national monuments from tracts of existing federal public land. These monuments range from prehistoric ruins and other objects of antiquity (hence the Act’s name) all the way up to entire landscapes of ecological and scientific importance, covering hundreds of thousands of acres. The Act has been used by sixteen presidents to proclaim new national monuments or expand existing ones. These monuments include world-class protected natural areas, many of which have gone on to receive national park status, and cultural sites of international renown. Of America’s twenty World Heritage Sites, seven originated as national monuments under the Antiquities Act: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Grand Canyon National Park, Olympic National Park, Statue of Liberty National Monument, and Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

(2) A foundation for heritage professionalism. The Act provides a legal and public policy foundation for public archeology in the United States, and for agency involvement in the preservation of historic places and structures. Its provisions have done much to foster the development of the professions of archeology, anthropology, and historic preservation in the United States.

(3) A scientific basis for nature preservation. The Act was the first law to enable the creation of large-scale nature reserves for scientific (rather than scenic or economic) reasons. Not only did it therefore prefigure today’s emphasis on landscape-scale ecosystem conservation by almost a century, it remains a vital tool for such efforts. In fact, over the past 30 years practically the only large-scale nature reserves to be created by the federal government have come as the result of monument declarations under the Antiquities Act.

(4) An important presidential prerogative. The Act established the power of the president to proactively preserve important cultural sites and natural areas (up to and including large landscapes of ecological value) that are threatened with degradation or outright destruction. This “one-way” power — the president can unilaterally establish national monuments, but only Congress can abolish them — is an important legal doctrine that has enhanced the power of the Executive Branch.

Enactment of the Antiquities Act followed a 25-year effort to ensure protection of American archaeological sites and other historic, natural, and scientific resources. It was controversial at the time of its enactment and continues to be so, but such is always the case with landmark legislation in a democratic society. In shaping public policy to protect a broad array of cultural and natural resources, the impact of the Antiquities Act has been unmatched.

Cite this Record

The Antiquities Act. ( tDAR id: 372343) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8KP83KD

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Francis McManamon

Resources Inside this Project (Viewing 1-47 of 47)

  • Documents (47)
  1. Conservation Fund, Antiquities Act Prove Great for Outdoors (2011)
  2. Theodore Roosevelt and the Antiquities Act of 1906: Timely Action and an Enduring Legacy (2011)
  3. Controversy over Antiquities Act and National Monuments makes little sense (2010)
  4. Letter to Obama - Protect Antiquities Act (2010)
  5. National Monuments and the Antiquities Act (Congressional Research Service report) (2010)
  6. The Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Hidden Treasures of the American West (2008)
  7. Bush Eyes Unprecedented Conservation Program (2008)
  8. Introduction to Richard W. Sellars' Article "A Very Large Array: Early Federal Historic Preservation -- The Antiquities Act, Mesa Verde, and the National Park Service Act" (2007)
  9. A Very Large Array: Early Federal Historic Preservation - The Antiquities Act, Mesa Verde, and the National Park Service Act (2007)
  10. The Antiquities Act and the Acreage Debate (2006)
  11. The Antiquities Act: Protecting America's Natural Treasures (2006)
  12. The Antiquities Act: The First Hundred Years of a Landmark Law (2006)
  13. A Monumental Future: Evaluating the Roles of Federal Agencies in Managing New National Monuments (2004)
  14. Utah District Court Opinion - Escalante Grand Staircase (2004)
  15. Implementing the Antiquities Act: A Survey of Archeological Permits 1906-1935 (2003)
  16. The Monumental Legacy of the Antiquities Act of 1906 (2003)
  17. CRS Report for Congress: National Monument Issues (2002)
  18. Mtn State Leg FDN v. Bush George (2002)
  19. National Monument Issues (2002)
  20. No. 02-1590 Mountain States Legal Foundation, et al., Petitioners V. George W. Bush President of the United States, Et Al. (2002)
  21. National Monuments and the Antiquities Act: Recent Designations and Issues (CRS Report for Congress, RL30528) (2001)
  22. Preserving Monumental Landscapes Under the Antiquities Act (2001)
  23. CRS Report for Congress: RS20647 Authority of a President to Modify or Eliminate a National Monument (2000)
  24. The Devil, the Details, and the Dawn of the 21st-Century Administrative State: Beyond the New Deal (2000)
  25. From Grand Staircase to Grand Canyon Parashant: Is There a Monumental Future for the BLM? (2000)
  26. RL30528: National Monuments and the Antiquities Act (2000)
  27. The Antiquities Act and National Monuments: A Progressive Conservation Legacy (1999)
  29. Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument (1998)
  30. 90 Years of Archeology and Historic Preservation (1996)
  31. The Antiquities Act - Setting Basic Preservation Policies (1996)
  32. Ralph H Cameron and the Grand Canyon (Part 1) (1978)
  33. Ralph H. Cameron and the Grand Canyon (Part II) (1978)
  34. History of Legislation Relating to The National Park System Through the 82d Congress (the Antiquities Act) (1958)
  35. Letter from Secretary of the Interior Hebert Work to Jesse L. Nusbaum (1927)
  36. U.S. Supreme Court Decision No. 205 (Grand Canyon) (1920)
  37. Establishing the Grand Canyon National Monument - A Proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt (1908)
  38. Preservation of American Antiquities - Progress during 1906 (1907)
  39. Antiquities Act: An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities (1906)
  40. Preservation of American Antiquities; Progress during the Last Year; Needed Legislation (1906)
  41. Recent Progress in American Anthropology, A Review of the Activities of Institutions and Individuals from 1902 to 1906 (1906)
  42. The Preservation of American Antiquities (1905)
  43. Preservation of Antiquities (1905)
  44. Preservation of Antiquities SW (1905)
  45. Archeology of Pajarito Park, New Mexico (1904)
  46. Government Supervision of Historic and Prehistoric Ruins (1904)
  47. Historic and Prehistoric Ruins of the Southwest and Their Preservation (1904)