People have occupied portions of New York State for over 10,000 years. Only the last few decades of this long and complex period are thoroughly recorded and well understood. The only way we can come to know and appreciate the one hundred centuries that came before is through archeology. If we can find the remains left behind of the sites these people inhabited, the tools they used, the constructions they created, and even of the people themselves, we can finally reveal the way life was in New York hundreds and thousands of years ago.
Yet the archeological record that remains hidden in the ground is a fragile record. It is finite and nonrenewable. Once destroyed, it can never be duplicated, and once the information these sites contain is lost, it can never be recreated. Every time the ground is disturbed, whether by natural or human events, the potential loss of these endangered resources increases. Almost daily some part of our common archeological heritage is damaged or lost, often unintentionally, by the actions we come to accept as part of everyday modern life.
To help prevent such losses on land under its own control, the State of New York enacted Section 233 of the Education Law in 1958. The intent of this law was to protect these "publicly owned" cultural resources "both for scientific and for educational and historic purposes." This law represents the interests of all the people of New York in their common heritage and protects their rights to benefit from the scientific and educational values preserved in these resources for all time to come.
Section 233 has three major components. First, it protects archeological sites and "objects of historic interest" from damage by preventing artifact removal from state lands without written permission. Second, it provides a program of archeological study permits by which serious students of our cultural past may pursue scientific studies on archeological resources on state lands. And third, it requires of anyone who unexpectedly discovers such objects on state lands to report it to the appropriate persons.
Section 233 is part of Education Law and is mandated to the State Education Department in recognition of the very strong educational motives which underwrote the original intent of this archeological preservation effort. The administration of Section 233 is delegated within the Education Department to the New York State Museum, because "scientific specimens and collections, works of art, objects of historic interest and similar property . . . owned by the state . . . shall constitute the collections of the state museum." Responsibility for the management of publicly owned cultural resources under Section 233 falls to the State Museum's Historical and Anthropological Surveys, which have expertise and longstanding research traditions in these areas.