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Organizational Policies & Procedures

Human Remains Policies & Procedures


The following policies and procedures apply to members of the Ohio Archaeological Council whenever they are dealing with human remains. The excavation of human skeletal remains can provoke sensitive issues among the general public and among the individuals closely related to the human remains. As Ohio Archaeological Council members we wish to see all human remains treated with dignity and respect. We agree that accidental or planned unearthing of any remains should not be unduly sensationalized. We respect the religious and ideological beliefs of communities, in particular, those beliefs which deal with the disposition of human remains. We are aware that those of us who deal with human remains must be willing and able to educate the public about our findings and about the necessity for preserving and studying the evidence from the past, including human remains. Careful analyses and comparisons of skeletal materials provide much information about many aspects of prehistoric and historic cultures including social behavior, demography, history, disease etiology and consequences, and diet. It is thus imperative that collections of human remains be carefully preserved and that provisions for study be made. The need to do this must be adequately explained so that an educated public will support work involving human skeletal materials. We believe that the following policies provide an appropriate framework for the excavation and curation of human remains.


These policies apply to all human remains which have been, are, or will be found in archaeological contexts. Within these policies it is necessary to consider three categories of possible relationships between interred human remains and living individuals and/or contemporary communities. The criteria for these categories are:

  1. Specific descendants can be traced; this includes cases in which a specific individual(s) can be demonstrated to be the legal heir(s).
  2. Cultural affinity with a contemporary group is identifiable; no direct descendants or heirs are known to exist, but it is known that the human remains are those of an individual associated with a recognized contemporary community.
  3. No cultural affinity with a contemporary community is identifiable.
  4. A member of the Ohio Archeological Council who has knowledge prior to excavation that human remains associated with Category 1 may be encountered must make all prudent and feasible efforts to contact the direct kin and to obtain prior permission to excavate. All applicable state and local laws must be followed.
  5. A member of the Ohio Archaeological Council who has prior knowledge that human remains associated with Category 2 may be encountered should make all prudent and feasible efforts to contact the contemporary community involved prior to excavation and should discuss the proposed excavation and its purposes with those individuals recognized by the community as representatives with the authority to speak for the community in matters concerning human remains. Efforts should be made to establish a positive relationship between the goals of the excavators and those of the community. If it has not been possible to establish contact prior to excavation, efforts should be continued for a reasonable interval during and after excavation.
  6. A member of the Ohio Archaeological Council who determines during an excavation or after an excavation has been completed that disinterred human remains are associated with Category 1 or Category 2, should follow the policies set forth in I and II.
  7. In some situations the reburial of disinterred human remains may be required. As members of the Ohio Archaeological Council it is our policy that no human remains should be reinterred before appropriate documentation and study of those remains have been completed.
  8. It is the policy of the Ohio Archaeological Council that if at any time, prior to, during or after the disinterment of any human remains, any community claims a Category 2 relationship to these remains, it is the responsibility of those who set forth the claim to clearly demonstrate the existence of such a relationship.
  9. It is the responsibility of any Ohio Archaeological Council member who has disinterred human remains or who curates a collection of such remains to see that these remains are maintained in a manner which is responsible, sensitive, and in keeping with the dignity and respect to be accorded to all exhumed human skeletal remains.
  10. While it is the responsibility of an Ohio Archaeological Council member to provide data which can be used in educating the public, a member who has excavated human remains also has the responsibility to be certain that materials excavated will not be used for displays or other purposes which might be exploitative or insensitive, or which are merely designed for the presentation of curiosities.

Ohio Archaeological Council members and those working with them will use the following procedures upon the excavation of human skeletal remains. If there is prior knowledge that human skeletal remains will likely be recovered during an excavation, then applicable policies and procedures should be followed prior to exhuming human remains.

I. Determine which of the three relationship categories is applicable.

If Category 1 is applicable obtain permission from the appropriate heirs and/or legal authorities.

If Category 2 may be applicable in the judgment of the excavator or curator, or if a "claim" has been put forward for such a relationship

Identify the authenticity of the community which may have (or claims to have) a cultural association with the human remains.

Identify those individuals recognized by the community as representatives with the authority to speak for the community in matters concerning human remains and/or determine the authenticity of such authority which has been claimed by the individual(s).

Deal only with those individuals whose authority has been authenticated.

Although it is desirable to have an agreement prior to excavation, this may not be possible or necessary depending upon the legal permission requirements in each particular situation.

If an agreement is reached that human remains will be reinterred after appropriate documentation and study, it is advisable to set a mutually satisfactory time schedule for the completion of the study and reburial.

If it becomes necessary for human remains to be reinterred, the reburial must be conducted in a dignified and respectful manner.

Assistance should be sought if problems arise in any part of the process. Members of the Board of Directors of the Ohio Archaeological Council can be contacted for help in obtaining appropriate assistance.

If neither Category 1 nor Category 2 criteria apply to any accidental or appropriately planned disinterment, then the remains are deemed to be associated with Category 3.
II. Excavate according to professionally acceptable archeological techniques and procedures for disinterring human remains. These procedures include conducting all excavations with due respect.

III. Be certain that arrangements are made for scholarly study of the human remains and for appropriate dissemination of the results of this study.

IV. Be certain that adequate and proper arrangements (for example those described in the Ohio Archaeological Council reporting requirements Section VI, Part D) are made for the permanent curation of all materials involved. These materials include all detailed documentation of excavation, burial content, and analyses as well as the remains themselves if these are not reinterred. Copies of any documentation or analyses may be given to individuals or to community representatives associated with the human remains if it is deemed appropriate.

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