Burial Sites Preservation Program
The burial sites preservation program was created with the passage of 1985 Wisconsin Act 316 (PDF, 940KB) and Wisconsin's Burial Sites Preservation law, Wis. Stats. 157.70 (PDF, 40KB), in 1987. The program is based at the Wisconsin Historical Society's Headquarters building at 816 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706 and is part of the Division of Historic Preservation-Public History. Program staff works closely with members of the Burial Sites Preservation Board.
The Administrative Rules that implement the law, HS 2 (PDF, 220KB), provide clarification of many of the terms and procedures that are used to identify, catalog, preserve, excavate, analyze and decide disposition of human burials in Wisconsin.
A burial site, under the law, refers to any place where human remains are buried and includes marked and unmarked cemeteries, Native American mounds, small family cemeteries, and other less obvious locations that are reported to the Wisconsin Historical Society. No burials, regardless of age, ancestry, cultural affiliation or condition may be intentionally disturbed without first obtaining a permit from the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, even if that burial is on your own land.
Accidental discoveries of suspected human bone must be reported to the burial sites preservation program and work must stop until a determination of whether or not the bone is actually of human origin is made. If you suspect that the human remains you have found are of recent origin and may be of law enforcement interest, please do not move or handle the remains and contact your local police or sheriff's department as soon as possible.
If you have a burial site on your property you may be eligible for a property tax exemption. In order to benefit, the site must be catalogued including a minimum five-foot protective buffer around it. You may then submit the documentation we provide to your local or county assessor to receive a pro rata reduction (see Wis. Stat. 70.11).
If you have questions about the program or would like to report the location of a burial site, please contact us at (608) 264-6494 and provide county and township information as well as section number, if possible. If you would like to report that information in writing, please complete this Burial Sites Report form (PDF, 80kb).
If you know of, or would like to report a burial site disturbance and you are calling from Wisconsin, please use our toll-free number, (800) 342-7834. For technical information or questions, please call (608) 264-6507.