Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Working or Building Within a Human Burial Site

Moving Human Burial Sites | Wisconsin Historical Society

Moving human burials is sometimes necessary, but should only be undertaken as a last resort. If you are a landowner, contractor, or government agency involved in a project that requires digging and working inside the boundaries of burial sites, state law has established procedures for you to follow.

Obtain Authorization to Disturb a Human Burial Site

Landowners must obtain authorization from the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society before starting any activity that disturbs the ground surface or changes the surface characteristics of a burial site.

Examples of disturbance include, but are not limited to, grading, removing or moving fences or buildings, removing or moving stone or wooden burial markers, digging into any type of Native American mound, pulling stumps, and archaeological excavations.

To obtain authorization to work within the boundaries of a burial site, fill out and mail in the Request to Disturb a Human Burial Site form. Download that form and learn more about how to request to disturb a human burial site.

If Authorization Is Granted

If authorization to disturb a burial site is granted, the Wisconsin Historical Society will work with you to determine whether any human remains found during your project should be moved or left in place. If authorization to disturb the burial site is denied, you may appeal.

Hire an Archaeologist to Excavate and Move Human Remains

If human remains found within the boundaries of a burial site cannot be left in place, you will be required to have the remains excavated by a professional archaeologist. The archaeologist will analyze the bones and any associated funerary objects in order to determine how old they are and who they belonged to. Society staff will use the information in the archaeologist's report to identify who should be offered custody of the remains.

The Society has lists of archaeologists qualified to work within the boundaries of human burial sites (PDF, 138 KB) and to analyze skeletal remains (PDF, 57 KB).

All costs associated with the excavation and analysis of human remains are the responsibility of the landowner, contractor, or agency requesting to disturb the burial site.

Is Authorization Always Necessary?

No. Normal cemetery business does not require authorization from the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Normal cemetery business includes landscaping, replacing burial markers, and the excavation of new graves. Requests to exhume bodies from active cemeteries are considered by county medical examiners and coroners, not the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Have You Discovered Human Remains?

By state law, all discoveries of suspected human bone must be reported immediately, even if you have already been authorized to work within the boundaries of a human burial site.

If You Find Human Bone or Believe You Have Found Human Bone

  1. Contact your local police or sheriff's department immediately.
  2. Do not move or handle the remains.
  3. Stop all construction or other ground disturbance immediately.
  4. Contact the Wisconsin Historical Society at 800-342-7834 or 608-264-6507 as soon as possible.

Failure to report the discovery of human remains to the Wisconsin Historical Society may result in substantial fines or criminal charges.

Stop Construction or Other Ground Disturbing Activities

Construction or other ground disturbing activities may not proceed until the bones are determined to be unrelated to a criminal or missing persons case and the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society has granted authorization to proceed.

Learn More

See more articles about Human Burials, Mounds and Cemeteries

Have Questions?

Contact Kimberly Cook at 1-800-342-7834 or by email below: