The Minnesota Office of the State Archaeologist

Program Mission Statement

Activity Description

Population Served

Services Provided

Historical Perspective



The Office of the State Archaeologist's mission is to foster, among its diverse public, an appreciation of the State's archaeological resources through research, stewardship and education; to provide quality technical information, support, and service to individuals and agencies; and to promote, among archaeologists, the very highest standards of professional conduct.

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The Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) manages the State's archaeological resources, including sites and data, on behalf of the people of Minnesota, under provisions of MS 138.31-138.42 and MS 307.08. In addition to extensive federal legislation addressing cultural heritage resource management, other state statutes, including MS 86A (the Outdoor Recreation Act) and MS 116B (the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act), also speak to issues of archaeological resource protection.

Under provisions of its statutory mandates, OSA is charged with: sponsoring, conducting and directing research into the prehistoric and historic archaeology of Minnesota; identifying, protecting and preserving archaeological sites, objects and data; disseminating archaeological information through the publication of reports and articles; identifying, authenticating and protecting human burial sites; reviewing and licensing archaeological fieldwork conducted within the state; and enforcement of the Field Archaeology Act.

Per MS 138.31-138.42, licensure through OSA is required for field archaeology undertaken on lands owned, leased by or subject to the paramount right of the state or its subdivisions, as well as on lands or waters impacted by publicly funded development projects. Please contact OSA directly for additional information and application materials. MS 307.08 affords all human remains and burials older than 50 years, and located outside of platted, recorded or identified cemeteries, protection from unauthorized disturbance; this statute applies to burials on both public and private lands or waters. Efforts to protect burials emphasize "preservation-in-place", that is, maintaining the burial area in its original location and condition. Authentication of prehistoric and early historic burials is conducted under the sole auspices of OSA per this statute.

Among others, OSA review processes related to these statutes are critical to controlling public and private development costs, which may derive, in part, from federal, state, and local mandates which require the identification, evaluation, and protection of archaeological (including early burial) and other heritage resources.

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OSA clients include, but are not limited to: local, state and federal agencies; representatives of Minnesota's tribal communities; cultural resource management firms; builders and development associations; county historical societies; private homeowners; professional and avocational archaeologists; local heritage preservation commissions; educators and school districts; and other public and private agencies and individuals.

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Both integrated and interdependent, these program services function as a whole. As an example, the scheduling, cost, and progress of both public and private development projects depend on accurate and timely consultative services which, in turn, require comprehensive data management and research capabilities.

To better realize these program elements, OSA has developed strategic and collaborative partnerships with a variety of organizations including: the Land Management Information Center; the Minnesota Department of Transportation; the Minnesota Office of Tourism; the University of Minnesota; representatives of Minnesota's tribal communities; the National Park Service; and others.

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OSA and the Field Archaeology Act were created by the Legislature in 1963. In 1976, the Legislature enacted section 307.08 of the Private Cemeteries Act. The intervening years have seen a dramatic expansion of federal, state, and local legislation intended to better identify, evaluate, and protect archaeological and other heritage resources. At the same time, and in response to this legislation, the duties of the State Archaeologist necessarily shifted from an academic focus to one of "review and compliance".

The State Archaeologist was originally a position appointed by the Minnesota Historical Society and held by a professor affiliated with the University of Minnesota. In the late of 1992, the former State Archaeologist vacated the position. This vacancy soon caused a rather severe disruption in services, which adversely impacted a variety of interests including those of state agencies, tribal communities, professional archaeologists, developers, individual homeowners, engineering firms, and others. In response, the Legislature and the Governor, with broad support, increased funding for the program (1994 session), and the State Archaeologist position was refilled. In May of 1996, Governor Carlson, by Executive Order (reorganization order no. 175), established OSA as a division in the Department of Administration.

Annual reports

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