how to take burials burial mounds and human remains into account
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HOW TO TAKE BURIALS, BURIAL MOUNDS, AND HUMAN REMAINS INTO ACCOUNT. Your NRCS responsibilities and how to fulfill them. Reasons for acquiring this information. There are federal and state laws which protect burials. Ignoring these statutes can lead to prosecution.

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how to take burials burial mounds and human remains into account


Your NRCS responsibilities and how to fulfill them

reasons for acquiring this information
Reasons for acquiring this information
  • There are federal and state laws which protect burials. Ignoring these statutes can lead to prosecution.
  • Disturbance of burials can lead to community unrest including violent incidents.
  • Ground disturbing undertakings by our agency have the potential to disturb burials.
iowa law prohibits the disinterment of human remains without lawful authority
Iowa Law Prohibits the Disinterment of Human Remains without Lawful Authority
  • Intentional disinterment of human remains without lawful authority is criminal mischief in the third degree.
examples of where human remains are encountered
Examples of Where Human Remains are Encountered
  • Marked cemeteries
  • Burial Mounds
  • Unmarked graves
  • Crime and accident scenes

Burial Mounds and Historic

Cemeteries Can Be at the Same Location

marked cemeteries
Marked Cemeteries
  • These cemeteries are marked by either a fence, tombstones, or both.
  • Some cemeteries have been moved. These should be avoided on practical grounds, because it is usually the case that many burials are missed.
burial mounds
Burial Mounds
  • Burial mounds are an ancient form of marked cemetery.
  • Not all ancient mounds are known to be associated with human burials. Some mounds may have served other functions than burials, or the human remains may have rotted away. All ancient mounds are assumed by Iowa NRCS to be burial mounds.
unmarked graves
Unmarked Graves
  • Burials have occurred that are not marked, or had perishable markers that rotted away over time.
  • Some 19th Century farms had small family plots. These may now be unmarked. When working near old farmstead locations, be alert to this possibility. Ask earlier owners or check old maps or aerial photographs.
crime and accident scenes
Crime and Accident Scenes
  • Murder, suicide, and accident victims are sometimes discovered in fields and forests.
  • These can often be told from ancient remains. Soft tissue and articles of clothing may be present.
  • Notify the police and try to avoid disturbing the scene.
do this if you encounter human remains
Do This If You Encounter Human Remains
  • Avoid the area, if it is a marked cemetery, an unmarked cemetery, or burial mound.
  • Cease NRCS assistance if the area cannot be avoided, or the remains are discovered during construction. Contact the State Office. The State Conservationist will determine further agency actions.
  • Contact the police directly if it is a crime or accident scene.
  • Communicate on a need to know basis only. Mounds may be looted or crime scenes disturbed if the location is divulged to the community.
differentiating human and animal bones
Differentiating Human and Animal Bones
  • The bones of livestock and deer litter much of the landscape.
  • Many of the larger bones of the body can be excluded from consideration by size. Look at the analogous portion of your body for comparison. Remember your bones are covered by skin, muscle and fat so it is easy to over-estimate the size of your bones. Some bones are from immature individuals and will be smaller than an adult’s. They can be recognized because the ends of the bones are usually not fused.
  • A skull with horns or antlers, a skeleton with more than two feet, or any foot bone with a metal horseshoe attached is unlikely to belong to a human (at least not an Iowan).
  • Contact the State Office if you have questions.
information on burial mounds
Information on Burial Mounds
  • Burial mounds are to be avoided.
  • They may be easily confused with bulldozer spoil piles. If you have any questions, contact the state office.
  • Burial mounds are displayed in several parks. Visit these locations when you have the chance.
burial mounds come in a variety of shapes
Burial Mounds Come in a Variety of Shapes

Conical Mound

(the most common)

Linear Mounds

Effigy Mounds

(largely restricted to the NE of the State)

how mounds were constructed
How Mounds were Constructed
  • The upper layer of the soil was removed
  • Human remains were placed in the shallow depression
  • Earth from a nearby borrow area was heaped over the remains
  • Most mounds built in Iowa date between 900 and 3000 years old
manicured mounds
Manicured Mounds
  • Mounds on display in public parks usually have the trees cleared and the grass mowed.
  • This is unlikely to be the situations you will encounter on the job.
  • If you find one mound, look for more, as they are often found in clusters.
cultivation destroys mounds
Cultivation Destroys Mounds
  • Mounds tend to survive in areas that aren’t cultivated.
  • Consequently, mounds are often found in areas such as wood lots, pastures, steep terrain, cemeteries, etc.
  • Vegetation often will obscure mounds. They are most easily observed in seasons of the year when leaves are off.
spoil piles made by heavy equipment
Spoil Piles Made by Heavy Equipment
  • Burial mounds can be confused with spoil piles.
  • The end of World War II resulted in surplus bulldozers and many people trained in using heavy equipment.
  • This led to extensive use of heavy equipment in rural areas to clear vegetation and construct field roads. The result was numerous piles of dirt, that with the passage of time began to be confused with burial mounds.
modern spoil pile characteristics
Modern Spoil Pile Characteristics
  • A lack of developed soil
  • Opportunistic vegetation (no large trees)
  • A lumpy silhouette
  • Orientation along modern boundaries (such as fence lines, field borders, section lines, construction areas, etc.)
  • Modern material incorporated in the fill (such as barbed wire).
burial mounds are characterized by
Burial Mounds are Characterized by
  • Well developed soils
  • Old growth vegetation (including large trees)
  • An even silhouette
damaged mounds
Damaged Mounds
  • Mounds that have been heavily damaged (frequently by looting) may be hard to differentiate from spoil piles.
  • Error on the side of caution.
  • Look for other undamaged mounds in the vicinity, and check for more mature vegetation on the undamaged portions of the mound.
do not disturb
Do Not Disturb
  • During investigation do not excavate or disturb a suspected burial mound on your own initiative. The Office of the State Archaeologist (a state agency) has jurisdiction on such matters.
  • Avoid the burial mound, or abandon the undertaking, or turn the project over to the State Office for disposition.