Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

Museum and research center closed for renovations. For more info, call (406) 444-2694.

Montana Archaeology

The State Archaeology program within Montana SHPO encourages recognition and preservation of archaeological sites, and places of cultural importance to Indian peoples.

Under this goal, archaeological staff conduct archaeological and traditional cultural properties consultation according to section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The state archaeology program is also responsible for reviewing Antiquities Permits for work on state lands.

In addition, as time allows we provide guidance and technical assistance to tribes and agencies, as well as the general public. The state archaeologist is the primary contact point for tribal consultation for the office, and SHPO staff offer assistance in preparation of National Register nominations for Traditional Cultural Properties and archaeological sites. We support heritage education projects through the Montana Historical Society education program and in the schools.

View a short video about the National Historic Preservation act in Big Sky Country.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
THPOs take the place of SHPOs on reservation lands - meaning that agencies must consult with the Tribe and have their concurrence before proceeding with a project unless the agency instead gets that concurrence from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Tribes have an important consultation role for non reservation lands they traditionally used and/or have reserved Treaty rights in. That means an agency must consult with them about projects on those patrimonial lands but Tribal concurrence is not required when deciding to proceed or not.

Click here if unmarked human remains/bones are located.
Click here if you have questions on buried/marked remains (PDF) or cemeteries.

In Montana, artifacts belong to the landowner; therefore private land means private owner and public land means public agency owner. If you find an artifact on land you do not own you should always contact the land owner before doing anything else. There is one important legal exception to this basic ownership rule. If artifacts were left with a human burial they are not owned by the land owner. Neither the human remains or any artifact found with them can be owned - they are not property abandoned. If you think you have found something like that you are required by law to contact the local coroner and/or the State Archaeologist after securing the site as best you can.

The Montana State Antiquities Act applies to projects on state lands only. The Act provides, in part, for the review of agency proposed projects and mitigation plans by the SHPO and the issuance of Antiquities Permits (required only for the excavation, removal, or restoration of any Heritage Property on state lands). If you are working on state lands e.g. Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Universities or the Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, etc., you must consult directly with that agency. If a need for an Antiquities Permit develops, the agency will consult directly with the State Archaeologist. Inventory and testing work generally does not require a state Permit. If you work on federal lands you will likely need an ARPA permit from the land managing agency but no Montana state permit is necessary.

There is no single place to check. The best bets would be local land management agencies like the BLM or Forest Service and their Passport in Time program. There is also a program called Project Archaeology which acts like a clearing house for much of that kind of information.

Applying Site Numbers to Cultural Resources in Montana: Discussion and Guidelines (Planning Bulletin No. 3) (PDF)

Guidelines and Procedures For Cultural Resource Review and Consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act and the Montana State Antiquities Act (Planning Bulletin No. 21) (HTML)

Recordation Standards and Evaluation Guidelines for Stone Circle Sites (Planning Bulletin No. 22). (PDF)

Ancient Teachings

Montana Paleoindian Point Data Form

Burial Preservation Board

Consultation with Indian Tribes in the Section 106 Process: A Handbook


Jessica Bush (
State Archaeologist
(406) 444-0388