Ancient Burials in Iowa

The Office of the State Archaeologist at the University of Iowa (OSA) has Code of Iowa specified responsibilities concerning the investigation, interpretation, and preservation of ancient burials, and when necessary, the recovery and reburial of ancient human skeletal remains. These duties were assigned to the OSA in 1976 by state statue after Indians and non-Indians in Iowa came to unified consensus about the need for protection of ancient burials, proper disposition of disturbed burials, and equal protection under the law. Today, ancient remains, remains from pre-statehood, and the remains of historic-era Indian and Euroamerican pioneers are equally protected.

Iowa's program for protecting ancient burials involves:
  • Statutory protection for burials more than 150 years in age
  • Regular consultation with Indian communities through the Indian Advisory Council
  • Examination and study of human remains
  • Confidential reinterment of human remains in designated state cemeteries
  • Publication of study results
  • Public education on burial site protection and respect for burial sites and human remains
Ancient human remains are those older than 150 years in age regardless of cultural affiliation. Legal protection of burials in Iowa extends to include prehistoric burial mounds and unmarked cemeteries. Sites are preserved and protected in place whenever possible. If, however, human remains have been or must be removed, the OSA disinters and examines the remains prior to reburial and coordinates with appropriate agencies and descendant communities to arrange reburial. 
Any individual who discovers a possible ancient burial site or skeletal material he or she suspects may be human should contact the OSA. If the bones are determined to be human, they will be examined by a physical anthropologist in an attempt to determine cultural affiliation. A report will be written and submitted to the Department of Health. If the remains are over 150 years old, they will be reburied in one of four state cemeteries established for that purpose. 
Anyone considering construction activities should be concerned about encountering burials. Contact the OSA for assistance to ensure compliance with Iowa law and to preserve our non-renewable cultural heritage. Anyone with knowledge of disturbance of ancient human remains should contact the OSA. Intentional disturbance of a burial is considered criminal mischief in the third degree (Chapter 716.5, Iowa Code). 
The OSA is happy to explain the procedures followed upon the discovery of human remains, what we can learn from bones, and the importance of treating human remains and burials with respect. For more information, contact Lara Noldner at 319-384-0740.



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