This Day in the Law
June 8

Antiquities Act Signed into Law (1906)

On June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law, giving the President of the United States the authority to restrict the use of public land owned by the federal government.

The Antiquities Act resulted from concerns about protecting prehistoric Indian ruins and artifacts on federal lands in the West. Removal of artifacts from these lands by private collectors had become a serious problem by the end of the 19th century. In 1902, Congressman John F. Lacey, chair of the House Committee on the Public Lands, traveled to the Southwest with anthropologist Edgar Lee Hewett to see for himself the extent of the looters’ impact. His findings provided the catalyst for the passage of the legislation.

The Antiquities Act, officially named “An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities” was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. The aim of the Act is to protect all historic and prehistoric sites on United States federal land, and to prohibit excavation or destruction of the antiquities present on federal land. With this Act, this can be done more quickly than going though the lengthy Congressional process of creating a National Park.

The first area protected by the Act was Devils Tower National Monument. President Roosevelt also used the Act to create the Grand Canyon National Monument, which was the first act of law to protect and preserve the Grand Canyon. The most recent use of the Act was the establishment of three submerged national monuments in the Pacific by George W. Bush in January 2009.