Archaeologists like to think that heritage protection laws serve the purpose of protecting all archaeology from damage. Thus, provisions like that of §11 (1) Austrian Denkmalschutzgesetz or Art. 3 i-ii of the Valletta Convention are interpreted as a blanket ban on archaeological fieldwork ‘unauthorized’ by national heritage agencies, and a general prohibition against archaeological field research by non-professionals. The Austrian National Heritage Agency, the Bundesdenkmalamt, interprets the Austrian law in this way. Using the Austrian example as a case study, this paper demonstrates that this interpretation must be wrong, since, if it were true, it would revoke a fundamental civil right enshrined both in the Austrian constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: the unconditional freedom of research, which applies to archaeological field research as to any other kind of academic research, and extends equally to every citizen.