Archaeological monuments have been automatically protected by law since 1905. The legal basis for this has been revised over the years in keeping with changes in society and as our knowledge of various types of monuments and sites has improved. Today all archaeological and architectural monuments and sites that predate 1537 are automatically protected by the Cultural Heritage Act. Buildings predating 1649 are also protected by this Act.
The Cultural Heritage Act distinguishes between objects and monuments and sites. Objects include anything processed, produced and used by people, for example a stone axe, a brooch or flint waste from the production of tools. According to the Act, these all belong to the state.
Some archaeological monuments and sites are easily visible, for example burial mounds, pitfall traps and drift fences, charcoal pits and hill forts. Others are more difficult to find because they are hidden under peat, earth and rock: for example, Stone Age dwelling sites, iron working sites and some rock art sites. Whether or not they are visible on the surface, archaeological monuments and sites are automatically protected under the Cultural Heritage Act.
Many of the visible archaeological monuments and sites have been registered in connection with the production of Norway's economic map sheets, which was started in the 1960s. The register of monuments and sites lists about 250 000 archaeological monuments and objects. However, there are large uncultivated and mountain areas that have not yet been investigated. Spot checks have shown that there may be as many as 20 unknown archaeological monuments or objects for every one that has been registered.
Sami monuments and sites
Under the Cultural Heritage Act, all Sami monuments and sites that are more than 100 years old are automatically protected. The registration of Sami monuments and sites on economic map sheets is incomplete, so that we know quite little about this part of our cultural heritage.
Cultural monuments and sites on Svalbard
Separate regulations apply to the cultural heritage on Svalbard. All cultural remains from before 1946 are automatically protected (these are mainly from whaling, hunting and trapping, and mining activities).
Huge underwater potential
Along the coast and in rivers and lakes, there are large numbers of many different types of cultural monuments and sites below the water surface. There are huge underwater areas where there may be many undiscovered relics from practically all periods of Norway's history.