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Case Study: Owner's Property Has Burial Sites

Owning a Human Burial Site in Wisconsin: A Case Study | Wisconsin Historical Society

After getting a new job, Larry decided to buy an old farm just outside of town. His realtor mentioned that a small cemetery was located in a pasture on the former farm. In addition, there were Native American mounds on a bluff near the house.

Larry was afraid that the burial sites would prevent him from using the land the way he wanted to. Would people trespass on the property to see the mounds and cemetery?

Larry's realtor told him not to worry. Though Wisconsin state law protects all human burial sites from disturbance, there was no reason that he couldn't enjoy his property and privacy. The realtor told Larry that the Wisconsin Historical Society helps private landowners learn how to identify, manage, and preserve their burial sites.

Larry decided to visit the Wisconsin Historical Society's website to learn more. He was delighted to find out that he could get property tax exemption for both of his burial sites. After he bought the land, he called archaeologists at the Wisconsin Historical Society (1-608-264-6494) to see what information they might already have about the burial sites on his property.

Larry learned that his mound group was over 2,000 years old and his cemetery was over a century old. The cemetery contained the graves of one of the small town's founders, along with the graves of a Civil War veteran and a Menominee family.

Larry invited Wisconsin Historical Society archaeologists to come out and map the mounds and cemetery so that they could be listed in the Wisconsin Burial Sites Catalog.

While they were there, he mentioned that he had been planning to put a deck on the bluff by the mounds, but wasn't sure if he could. The archaeologists helped him find a place close by that wouldn't harm the mounds, and even checked to make sure there weren't any artifacts in the new location.

A few weeks later, Larry relaxed on his new deck and enjoyed the view. When he got back to the house, he found a letter from Wisconsin Historical Society in his mailbox. They had sent him copies of the maps they made along with the paperwork he needed to request his tax exemption. Things were looking better and better.

A few weeks after that, Larry heard a knock at his door. When he answered, he was greeted by an elderly woman. She said that some of her family members were buried in the small cemetery in his pasture and she was hoping to put flowers on their graves on Memorial Day. Larry talked with her for a while, and learned some fascinating things about the history of his new house and farm.

Larry agreed to keep his gate open on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day so that the woman and her family could visit the cemetery. That Memorial Day, Larry went down to the cemetery and looked at the flowers and flags left to honor the people who had lived on his land before him. He felt privileged to be a part of the rich history of his new home.

Learn More

See more articles about Human Burials, Mounds and Cemeteries

Have Questions?

Contact State Archaeologist John Broihahn by phone at 608-264-6496 or by email below: