Fossil Collecting & Artifact Hunting in Alaska
|Dinosaur track in Denali National Park|
Volunteers and hobbyists have found important artifacts. These people have helped museums and government agencies preserve and protect these pieces of Alaska’s past by reporting their discoveries to the proper authorities. Sadly, we have lost valuable information and a part of our national heritage because of people illegally collecting and selling fossils and artifacts. If you’re intending on going to look for fossils or artifacts, make sure to read the following rules and regulations before any collecting takes place. Generations of people have enjoyed searching for and collecting many types of fossils. Unfortunately, because of the enthusiasm of earlier collectors, fossils are becoming less common. Please leave something for your grandchildren to discover.
It is illegal to collect fossils or artifacts in national parks, Alaska State Parks, and National Wildlife Refuges without a permit.
Bureau of Land Management-Owned Land
Plant Fossils: You may collect plant fossils
Remains of ancient plants are found throughout much of Alaska. While it is permissible to collect small samples on most public lands, you are advised to check with federal or state offices that manage the lands where you want to collect to find out what restrictions apply. If you wish to hunt plant fossils on private land, be sure to obtain the owner’s permission first. It is illegal to sell your plant fossil taken from federal or state land. Fossils of rare plants are scientifically important and may require a special paleontological collecting permit. Plant fossils may NOT be bartered or sold.
Invertebrate Fossils: You may collect invertebrate fossils.
Invertebrate are animals without skeletal structures, such as insects, crabs, clams, and snails. Generally, you may collect fossils of common invertebrates in small quantities, but check local restrictions first. It is illegal to sell your invertebrate fossil finds taken from federal or state land. Fossils of invertebrates that are rare, and are scientifically important for research projects, may require a special paleontological collecting permit. Invertebrate fossils may NOT be bartered or sold.
Artifacts: You may NOT collect artifacts.
Unless you are issued a permit for scientific research, you may not collect any artifacts--ancient or historical--on federal or state lands. This includes arrowheads, pottery, pot shards, old bottles, pieces of equipment, and buildings. These items are part of our national heritage and researchers are still learning much from them. Human burial remains on both public and private land are protected from collection by federal and Alaska state law.
Vertebrate fossils: You may NOT collect vertebrate fossils.
You cannot collect or sell vertebrate fossils from federal or state land without a federal or state permit. Vertebrates include dinosaurs, mammals, sharks, fish, and any other animals with a skeletal structure. Included with vertebrate fossils, collection of the following is strictly prohibited: burrows, bones, teeth, footprints, and other traces of activity.
Who may get a permit?
Permits are issued for scientific research. They are given to people with specific qualifications that include related college education and experience. Permit holders must also have a letter from a federal or state agency-approved facility accepting collected fossils or artifacts for scientific study and public display. All collected items must be placed in the facility and cannot be kept by the collector.
Penalties and Violations Laws
Protecting fossils and artifacts provide for a variety of penalties. Though some fines may be smaller, the maximum fine is $250,000 and/or up to 10 years in jail. If you see someone removing artifacts or vertebrate fossils, please contact the Alaska State Troopers or a land management agency.
What can I do to help?
Always leave vertebrate fossils and artifacts in place. Their location and position tell a scientist just as much about the past as the item itself. They can be extremely delicate and attempting to move them could destroy them. Remember, they have survived in place for dozens or even millions of years and a little more time won’t make much difference. Please report your discoveries to the federal or state agency that manages the area where you made your find. You will be doing a great service to all Alaskans, including future generations. If you're interested in volunteering with fossil collection, visit our volunteer page to learn how you can volunteer with the Bureau of Land Management. When collecting, remember to leave some fossils for the future generation to discover. Contact a land management agency or the Alaska State Troopers if you see someone removing artifacts or vertebrate fossils. When hiking, stay on trails. Fossils are often fragile and can break if stepped on.
If you do find a rare fossil or an artifact, please contact:
State of Alaska
For more information visit the Bureau of Land Management's Fossil Collecting page.
Office of History & Archaeology
3601 C St., Suite 1278
Anchorage, AK 99503-5921