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Burial Sites Protection

A major aspect of the day-to-day work of the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) is spent dealing with duties assigned to the state archaeologist by the Private Cemeteries Act (Minnesota Statutes 307.08). Under this law, the state archaeologist has major responsibilities for historic cemeteries and burial grounds that are unrecorded and at least 50 years old.

This includes over 12,000 known Indian burial mounds and hundreds of early historic cemeteries. Only the state archaeologist can authenticate an unrecorded burial or burial ground.

The state archaeologist's duties under the Private Cemeteries Act involve:

  • maintaining a file of unrecorded burial site locations;
  • answering public and agency inquiries about known or suspected burial sites;
  • coordinating with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) when Indian burials are threatened;
  • formally determining the presence or absence of burial grounds through field work in particular areas (authentication);
  • reviewing development plans submitted by agencies and developers; and
  • advising agencies and landowners on legal and management requirements for unrecorded burial grounds.

According to the Private Cemeteries Act, it is a felony to willfully disturb a burial ground. This requires that the state archaeologist define burial ground limits during the authentication process and that all land within those limits be treated properly (i.e., not disturbed). Thus, human remains within burial grounds do not have to be directly disturbed to represent a violation of the law.

The state archaeologist has developed procedures to be used as a guideline for following the Private Cemeteries Act (seen in the section below).

Local governments also have responsibilities for some historic cemeteries under state law (Minnesota Statutes 306). Counties can maintain abandoned cemeteries and townships can take care of neglected cemeteries.

OSA Procedures

Procedures were developed by the current state archaeologist following amendments to the Private Cemeteries Act in 2007. They are only guidelines and can be altered based on the situation. Because each burial site is unique, some flexibility in procedures is necessary.

To review the procedures, access the complete procedures document


The Private Cemeteries Act has a number of critical definitions that must be used to properly apply the law. The definitions are as follows:

For a full list of definitions used by OSA, visit the glossary.

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