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Cemeteries and Burials
The Division of Archaeology is responsible for protecting and preserving abandoned cemeteries, unmarked graves, and human remains under the Unmarked Human Burial Sites Preservation Act (R. S. 8:671-681) and the Louisiana Historic Cemetery Preservation Act (R.S. 25:931-943). An “abandoned cemetery” includes any cemetery that is not being maintained, where the tombs, fences, and headstones are collapsing and falling into ruin, and trees, shrubs and other vegetation are growing amongst the graves. An “unmarked grave” includes any location where human remains have been found and there is no surficial evidence of a grave (tombstone, grave marker, etc.). A cemetery and grave are defined to include any human remains present, the tomb and headstone, and any items placed with the deceased (burial artifacts).
The Division does not have any authority for cemeteries that are maintained and/or kept in good condition by municipal, fraternal, religious or family organizations. Nor does it have any authority for cemeteries that are licensed by the Louisiana Cemetery Board.
If you believe you have found an abandoned cemetery, please contact the Division of Archaeology at 225-342-8170 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our staff will with work with you to record the site, and assess whether it is threatened by development, erosion or other factor. We can also provide guidance on how to clean up and protect an abandoned cemetery from further decay.
If you believe you have found human remains during an excavation or exposed on the surface, please contact the appropriate law enforcement officials within 24 hours. They will determine if the location is a crime scene. If it is not a crime scene, please contact the Division of Archaeology within 72 hours of the discovery. Our staff will work with you, law enforcement, the landowner, and possible descendents to determine the appropriate course of action. There is no penalty for accidentally uncovering human remains but the discovery must be reported promptly.
If you have any questions or concerns about abandoned cemeteries, unmarked graves, or human remains, please contact the Division of Archaeology at 225-342-8170 or email@example.com.
For Professional Archaeologists with Questions about Human Remains
- Human remains must be treated with sensitivity and care when they are encountered or are expected to be encountered on an archaeological project. In Louisiana, all unmarked burials and abandoned cemeteries are the responsibility of the Division of Archaeology under R.S. 8:671-681. This includes all Native American grave sites as well as many historic Euro-American, African-American and other cemeteries. This section provides guidance for how burials and human remains must be addressed on any archaeological project.
- In the event human remains should be encountered during a Phase I project, work must stop immediately in the vicinity of the uncovered human remains. Notice regarding the discovery must be made to the appropriate local law enforcement agency and the appropriate Parish Coroner's Office following the provisions of the Louisiana Unmarked Human Burial Sites Preservation Act (R.S. 8:671-871, et seq.). The State Archaeologist must be notified within 72 hours of the discovery. Within 24-hours of notification, the State Archaeologist shall notify any Native American tribe that have indicated interest in the area where the discovery of human remains was made. The local law enforcement officials shall assess the nature and age of the human skeletal remains. If the coroner determines that the human skeletal remains are older than 50 years of age, the Louisiana Division of Archaeology has jurisdiction over the remains and will work out appropriate plans among property owners, appropriate Tribes, living descendents, and other interested parties to insure compliance with existing state laws. No remains will be removed from the site until jurisdiction is established and the appropriate permits obtained from the Division.
- All investigations on non-Federal and non-Tribal lands involving human remains must proceed under the aegis of an Unmarked Burials Permit issued by the Division of Archaeology. Application for a permit is made in writing to the State Archaeologist (Division of Archaeology, PO Box 44247, Baton Rouge, La., 70804). The permit application must include a detailed research proposal that identifies the excavation strategies, analytical methods, temporary storage practices, and final disposition for the remains. If the remains are known or anticipated to be Native American, the Division assumes the responsibility of contacting the appropriate Tribes and inviting them to participate in the consultation. Applicants must understand that Tribal consultation can be complex, involve numerous Tribes, and that regulations do not provide formal deadlines for Tribes or other descendent communities to respond. The wishes of the consulting Tribes can significantly affect the final proposal in how the human remains will be excavated, analyzed, stored and their final disposition. If the known or anticipated remains are not Tribal, then the research proposal must specify how lineal descendents will be contacted, and identify the proposed final disposition of the remains. The final agreed-upon proposal will be attached to, and made a part of, the Permit. The Permit must be signed by the State Archaeologist and the responsible contracting archaeologist.
- If the project is occurring on federal or Tribal lands, NAGPRA protocols will take precedence over state law, and the appropriate federal agency is responsible for contacting the Tribes and overseeing the consultations.
- An Unmarked Burials Permit is not required for a Phase I survey or Monitoring project, unless documentary research has shown the project area may have human remains present, or the project area is located immediately adjacent to a property known to contain human remains (for example, monitoring utility placement along the edge of a known cemetery).