Human Remains

  1. Introduction
  2. What do I do if I find human remains?
  3. Instructions for Professional Archaeologists
  4. Instructions for Law Enforcement Personnel
  5. Instructions for Medical Examiners

Introduction

Chapter 872, Florida Statutes makes it is illegal to willfully and knowingly disturb human remains. Under these provisions, the State Archaeologist may take jurisdiction over and control of human remains from individuals who have been dead for at least 75 years. Below are a set of guidelines for what to do if you encounter human remains. Please visit the cemetery laws page for more information on statutes and rules related to historic and abandoned cemeteries and unmarked human remains.

Please treat all human remains and burial items with the utmost respect.

Note: Chapter 872 of the Florida Statutes applies to all land in Florida, including private, state, and federal property.

What do I do if I find human remains?

  1. Cease all activity that may disturb the remains. Unauthorized disturbance of human remains and graves is illegal, even on private property.
  2. Immediately notify law enforcement or your district medical examiner of the discovery.
  3. Leave the bones and nearby items in place. Do not disturb the scene. Moving or removing items can destroy valuable forensic or archaeological data that are vital to understanding the nature of the human remains.
  4. You may visit the cemeteries page for more information. You may follow this link Section 872.05, Florida Statutes to view the statute on unmarked burials.

Instructions for Professional Archaeologists Conducting Fieldwork under Authorization by the State or an Educational Institution


(professional archaeologists include individuals who meet the standards of the Register of Professional Archaeologists)

  1. Determine if the remains represent those of an individual who has been dead more than 75 years.
  2. If you suspect that the remains may be from an individual who has been dead for less than 75 years, contact the local district Medical Examiner.
  3. If the remains are from someone who has been dead for more than 75 years, archaeological activities may not resume until the State Archaeologist has been notified of the unmarked burial. To notify the State Archaeologist, call Daniel Seinfeld at 850.245.6301 or email him at daniel.seinfeld@dos.myflorida.com.
  4. Within 15 days after the discovery of human remains, the archaeologist conducting the excavation shall report to the State Archaeologist his or her opinion regarding the biological and cultural characteristics of the remains and where the unmarked burial and associated objects will be held prior to final disposition. Please report all human remains you find, including those that are likely not part of a complete burial as well as remains found in the lab after fieldwork.
  5. Communicate with the State Archaeologist to determine a plan for the final disposition of the remains.
  6. The DHR may assume jurisdiction over and responsibility for the unmarked burial in order to initiate efforts for the proper protection of the human remains and associated artifacts.
  7. We generally suggest that you try to avoid removing and curating unmarked burials, especially those of likely Native Americans. If you are a NAGPRA reporting institution, you must comply with NAGPRA regulations for any remains or associated grave goods that you take into your possession (visit the National NAGPRA webpage for more information). Additionally, per Section 872.05(6)(c), Florida Statutes, the State Archaeologist consults with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida to determine the final disposition of Native American remains.
  8. The archaeologist and human skeletal analyst involved in the archaeological excavation and scientific analysis of an unmarked human burial shall submit a written report of archaeological and scientific findings as well as a summary of such findings, in terms that may be understood by laypersons, to the State Archaeologist within 2 years after completion of an excavation.
  9. Submit your information on the archaeological site and a Site Update form to the Florida Master Site File.
  10. You may visit the cemeteries web page for more detailed information. You may follow this link Section 872.05, Florida Statutes to view the statute on unmarked burials.

For all issues concerning unmarked burials, please contact Daniel Seinfeld at 850.245.6301 or email him at daniel.seinfeld@dos.myflorida.com.

Instructions for Law Enforcement Personnel

  1. Contact your local district Medical Examiner.
  2. Treat the area like a crime scene, even if you suspect it to be archaeological. We suggest you note the location and context of the remains. Contextual clues and associated items are often useful in determining the age of skeletal material. Items of interest include:
    • Modern clothing and other items.
    • Dense concentrations of shell, possibly from a shell midden.
    • Prehistoric pottery
    • Historic items, such as coins or ceramics.
    • Coffin hardware such as wood and nails.
  3. Take note of the positioning of the remains: are they flexed (bundled), prone (laid out), or scattered.
  4. Note how the remains are exposed.
    • Are they laying on the surface?
    • Were they uncovered while people were digging?
    • Are they on a shoreline and are they uncovered by erosion?
  5. While on site, we suggest you take plenty of photographs to record the location of the remains and associated materials. This information is key to answering both forensic and archaeological questions regarding human remains.
  6. Do not, under any circumstances, allow anyone to take remains other than persons authorized by the State Archaeologist or the Medical Examiner, whoever has jurisdiction. Procedures are already in place for proper consultation and coordination with family, ethnic or tribal representatives, and these will be followed to determine a proper and legal final disposition of the remains.
  7. You may visit the cemeteries law enforcement web page for more information. You may follow this link Section 872.05, Florida Statutes to view the statute on unmarked burials.

Illegal Disturbance of Marked and Unmarked Graves:

Instructions for Medical Examiners

  1. Determine if the remains are from an individual who has been dead for greater than 75 years.
  2. If the remains are from an individual who has been dead for greater than 75 years, please contact Daniel Seinfeld with the Bureau of Archaeological Research at 850-245-6301 or email him at daniel.seinfeld@dos.myflorida.com. The Bureau of Archaeological Research will assess the case and determine if it is appropriate for us to take jurisdiction over and control of the remains.
  3. You may visit the abandoned cemeteries web page for more detailed information. You may follow this link 872.05 to view the statute on unmarked burials.