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Project Review Procedures

The Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) reviews development projects for the state that will potentially impact archaeological sites or cemeteries (as defined in the Private Cemeteries Act [MS 307.08]). State statute requires many of the OSA’s reviews, but the OSA will also conduct project reviews for agencies or developers upon request. 

Submit a Project Review Request

To submit a project for review, complete the Project Review Request Form and send it to

Minnesota Laws and Archaeological Reviews

The four primary review-related laws that the OSA operates under are:

  1. The Field Archaeology Act (MS 138.31-42
    • Under MS 138.40, Subd. 3, agencies must submit development plans to the OSA for projects located in areas where archaeological sites are known or predicted to exist.
      •  Based on a 2006 Minnesota Attorney General opinion obtained by OSA:
        • "Agency” refers to all Minnesota governmental units, not just state agencies. 
        • “Land” means land or water areas owned, leased, or otherwise subject to “the paramount right of the state, county, township, or municipality” where archaeological sites exist or might exist.
    • The OSA has 30 days to comment on the plans. 
  2. The Private Cemeteries Act (MS 307.08)
    • State agencies, local governments, and private developers must submit development plans to the State Archaeologist when development might impact known or suspected human burials, burial grounds, or cemeteries. 
      • If the cemetery might relate to American Indians, the agencies and developers must also submit plans to the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC). 
    • The OSA and MIAC have 30 days to comment on the plans.
  3. The Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MS 116d)
    • If a proposed project might significantly impact the environment, the OSA will review the project as part of the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process.
    • The EAW and EIS set the review deadlines.
  4. The Minnesota Water Law (MS 103F) and rules (6120
    • Agency reviews of proposed shoreland development projects must consider the project’s impacts on significant historical resources, including archaeological sites.
    • The state archaeologist can determine if sites are significant and thus eligible for the state or national historic registers (per Rules 6120.2500, Subpart 15a).
    • All cemeteries (as defined in MS 307.08) are considered significant. 
      • Developers and landowners may not place a structure on a significant site that affects the historical or archaeological site’s value.
      • The state archaeologist must approve any structure placed nearer than 50 feet from an un-platted cemetery (per Rules 6120.3300, Subpart 3e).

Reviewing Projects for Potential Archaeological Impact

When OSA conducts a project review, we first examine whether the proposed project might harm an archaeological site or cemetery. If the project might impact a recorded site, we usually ask the proposer to avoid the site if possible. 

Projects cannot always avoid sites. In those cases, we will likely recommend archaeological excavation to determine whether the site is significant (Phase II Evaluation) or document the site before being destroyed (Phase III Data Recovery). 

If no recorded sites are present, we then look at the general project location to see if it is in an area with a high potential to contain archaeological sites. If no recorded sites are present, but the area has a high potential for unrecorded sites, we recommend an archaeological survey. 

The project proposer bears the costs of these investigations and must use a qualified professional archaeologist. If the proposed project is on non-federal public land, the archaeologist must obtain a Minnesota Archaeological License. If the project is on federal land, the archaeologist must contact the federal agency that owns the land for information on acquiring a federal permit.

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