Almost every artifact in our store has been identified by the location from which it came. Each of these pieces is a part of a historical event, era or culture and it is important to attempt to maintain that connection. If the historical context of the artifact is lost, then its ability to tell us more about the past is also lost. However, if we can say that this bullet came from Devil’s Den or from Little Round Top, we can connect it to a specific event and a specific point in time. In that way, it brings us just a bit closer to that moment in history.
The majority of artifacts that we offer in this store and in our catalog either come from old, well-labeled (and thus location identified) collections or from trusted relic hunters who strive to preserve the history of the items that they find and who conduct their searches in a legal and respectful manner (on private property with permission of the land owners). We always emphasize that it is illegal to remove relics (or anything, even a stone) from Gettysburg National Military Park (and all other national parks as well as many state parks (laws vary)). The artifacts that we have from locations like Devil’s Den were retrieved decades ago and were a part of famous collections like the one maintained by the Rosensteel Family.
Although it is always preferable that artifacts at a historically important location be excavated by an archaeologist, we have to remember that most areas that saw activity in the Civil War are either not significant enough to warrant the time and expense of a professional archaeological excavation or are considered to have limited value as an archaeological site. For the most part, Civil War battles are well documented and archaeological excavations would add little to our knowledge about the event. It is rare for archaeological excavations to be conducted on Civil War battlefields and, when they are, they typically have a limited scope. In the United Kingdom, archaeologists recognize the fact that they will not be able to excavate most spots where there might be a potential historical site. For this reason, the government makes it easy for amateur archaeologists and “detectorists” to report what they find in a national database (we have had items in the store that are recorded in this database). A system has also been established which encourages them to report important sites that they might discover so that they can be properly excavated. This system has worked very well and might be worth duplicating in the United States.