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In their study of archaeological issues students will use ethical dilemmas to:

  • examine their own values and beliefs about archaeological site protection.
  • evaluate possible actions they might take regarding site and artifact protection.



  • Ethics: the rules of conduct or right and wrong behavior recognized by a society or a profession.
  • Values: established ideas about the way life should be lived; that is, the objects, customs, and ways of acting that members of a given society regard as desirable.


North Carolina’s archaeological resources are being destroyed at an alarming rate. As a result, scientific data is destroyed, and the peoples of North Carolina lose an important part of their heritage. This lesson encourages students to examine personal beliefs, feelings, and values concerning the protection of archaeological sites and artifacts, to decide what action they would take in difficult situations, and to suggest solutions to the problems of archaeological resource destruction. There are no right or wrong answers except where laws apply. This lesson should be taught after the students have established a foundation in archaeological concepts and methods.

Federal and state antiquities preservation laws state it is illegal to collect, deface, injure, or excavate sites and artifacts more than 100 years old on public land. Public land includes properties administered by any state or federal agency, such as the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. North Carolina’s archaeological-resource-protection laws apply to all stated-owned land and make it illegal to excavate, remove, or damage archaeological resources more than 50 years old. In North Carolina, public lands are administered by groups such as North Carolina State Parks or State Historic Sites. Archaeologists who conduct approved field work are granted permits by federal and state agencies.

People hiking, hunting, or camping on public land often discover an archaeological site or artifact. By law, the artifact is to be left in place, and the site is to be undisturbed. Discoveries of rare or remarkable artifacts and sites should be reported to the land managing agency, or, in the case of private lands, to the Office of State Archaeology in Raleigh.

Some sites have been destroyed by people who are interested only in removing, possessing, and sometimes selling artifacts, but not in what they tell us about the past. Most things archaeologists recover from sites are broken and not worth any money. The information these artifacts provide about the past is priceless, however, and once a site has been destroyed, its information is lost forever.

Students should never approach someone they see collecting artifacts or excavating sites on public lands. The best thing to do is to record information about the people—their physical description, what they were seen doing, the license number of their vehicle—and immediately report them to law enforcement authorities. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) allows rewards for those providing information leading to the arrest and conviction of people disturbing sites.

Setting the stage

  1. Ask students: Have you ever been in a situation when you were not sure of the right way to behave or respond? For example, your best friend had her hair cut in a style you think is unattractive. What do you tell your friend when she asks if you like the way it looks? Or, your best friend shows you some money that he has stolen from another friend’s bookbag. What do you say to your friend? Do you report the incident to someone? If so, whom?
  2. Distribute or project “Archaeological Resources Protection Act of North Carolina.” Review this law and its penalties.
  3. Explain that the dilemmas in the following activity will require decision making about difficult situations. As they share solutions to the dilemmas, students should be prepared to give reasons for their decisions.


  1. Copy the dilemmas and glue each one on a 5 × 8 index card. Students could also create dilemma cards, with each student responsible for one dilemma.
  2. Take one of the dilemma cards and read it aloud to the entire class. Without group discussion, ask the class to write a paragraph or two about how they feel about the dilemma and what they would do about it. They should not put their names on their papers. Have students turn in their papers (without names) and write several of their solutions on the blackboard until you have listed many strategies and viewpoints.
  3. Have students discuss the pros and cons of each solution and perhaps come to a class consensus. This activity can help students examine and clarify their values, while demonstrating there are many perspectives on any issue. Ask students to consider silently what they had originally written. Have they changed their thinking after listening to other viewpoints?
  4. Divide the class into groups of 4 to 5 students and give each group one of the dilemma cards. Have students discuss the dilemma as a group and decide how they would solve the problem. If students create a solution they think is better than the ones listed, allow them to share this solution. Allow about 15 minutes for their discussion. Have students choose a spokesperson for each group to report to the class the group’s decisions and their reasons for taking the actions or positions they did. Were they able to all agree on what they would do?
  5. Ask students if they had enough information upon which to base their decisions. Ask them if their opinion changed once they heard different points of view.


Ask students to share their overall position concerning the protection of archaeological resources. Or, ask them to create a symbol, story, poem, drawing, or song that summarizes their opinion.


Evaluate student participation in the dilemma discussions and the closure activities.

North Carolina curriculum alignment


Grade K–5

  • Goal 7: Acquire the attitudes, knowledge and interpersonal skills to help understand and respect self and others.
    • Objective 7.08: Conclude that everyone has rights and responsibilities.


Grade 4

  • Goal 1: The learner will apply the five themes of geography to North Carolina and its people.
    • Objective 1.04: Evaluate ways the people of North Carolina used, modified, and adapted to the physical environment, past and present.
  • Goal 3: The learner will trace the history of colonization in North Carolina and evaluate its significance for diverse people’s ideas.
    • Objective 3.01: Assess changes in ways of living over time and determine whether the changes are primarily political, economic, or social.
  • Goal 5: The learner will examine the impact of various cultural groups on North Carolina.
    • Objective 5.03: Describe and compare the cultural characteristics of regions within North Carolina and evaluate their significance.

North Carolina Essential Standards



Early Emergent/Emergent

  • EEE.SE.1 Understand the meaning and importance of personal responsibility and self-awareness. EEE.SE.1.1 Contrast appropriate and inappropriate physical contact. EEE.SE.1.2 Illustrate personal responsibility in a variety of settings and situations.


  • RED.SE.1 Understand the meaning and importance of personal responsibility and self-awareness. RED.SE.1.1 Understand the importance of self-control and responsibility. RED.SE.1.2 Identify ways of controlling behaviors associated with emotional states, feelings,…