Native American Burials and Skeletal Remains

Aug 30th 2017, 


Ever wonder what to do if you find skeletal remains on a hike or in your backyard? Ever wonder what the procedure is when someone does find something like this? The Professional Guide for the Preservation and Protection of Native American Remains and Associated Grave Sites has the answer. Thank you to the California Native American Heritage Commission for providing the resource.

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From California Public Resources Code Amended Statutes 1982 Chapter 1492: :
(a) The Legislature finds as follows:

(1) Native American human burials and skeletal remains are subject to vandalism and inadvertent destruction at an increasing rate.

(b) The purposes of the Health and Safety Code of the Public Resources Code are:

(1) To provide protection to Native American human burials and skeletal remains from vandalism and inadvertent destruction.

(2) To provide a regular means by which Native American descendents can make known their concerns regarding the need for sensitive treatment and disposition of Native American burials, skeletal remains, and items associated with Native American burials.


The following actions must be taken immediately upon the discovery of human remains:
  • The coroner has two working days to examine human remains after being notified by the responsible person. If the remains are Native American, the Coroner has 24 hours to notify the Native American Heritage Commission.
  • The Native American Heritage Commission will immediately notify the person it believes to be the most likely descendent of the deceased Native American.
  • The most likely descendent has 48 hours to make recommendations to the owner, or representative, for the treatment or disposition, with proper dignity, of the human remains and grave goods.

If the descendent does not make recommendations within 48 hours the owner shall reinter the remains in an area of the property secure from further disturbance, or

  • If the landowner does not accept the descendent’s recommendations, the owner or the descendent may request mediation by the Native American Heritage Commission.
  • Discuss and confer means the meaningful and timely discussion with careful consideration of the views of each party’s cultural values and, where feasible, seeking agreement.
  • If mediation fails, the landowner shall renter the human remains with appropriate dignity on the property in a location not subject to future subsurface disturbance.