The Division of Archaeology is responsible for protecting and preserving abandoned cemeteries, unmarked graves, and human remains under the Unmarked Human Burial Sites Preservation Act (R. S. 8:671-681) and the Louisiana Historic Cemetery Preservation Act (R.S. 25:931-943). An “abandoned cemetery” includes any cemetery that is not being maintained, where the tombs, fences, and headstones are collapsing and falling into ruin, and trees, shrubs and other vegetation are growing amongst the graves. An “unmarked grave” includes any location where human remains have been found and there is no surficial evidence of a grave (tombstone, grave marker, etc.). A cemetery and grave are defined to include any human remains present, the tomb and headstone, and any items placed with the deceased (funerary belongings).

The Division does not have any authority for cemeteries that are maintained and/or kept in good condition by municipal, fraternal, religious, or family organizations. Nor does it have any authority for cemeteries that are licensed by the Louisiana Cemetery Board.

If you believe you have found an abandoned cemetery, please contact the Division of Archaeology at 225-342-8200 or Our staff will work with you to record the site, and assess whether it is threatened by development, erosion, or other factor(s). We can also provide guidance on how to clean up and protect an abandoned cemetery from further decay.

If you believe you have found human remains during an excavation or exposed on the surface, please contact the appropriate law enforcement officials within 24 hours. They will determine if the location is a crime scene. If it is not a crime scene, please contact the Division of Archaeology within 72 hours of the discovery. Our staff will work with you, law enforcement, the landowner, and possible descendants to determine the appropriate course of action. There is no penalty for accidentally uncovering human remains but the discovery must be reported promptly.

If you have any questions or concerns about abandoned cemeteries, unmarked graves, or human remains, contact the Division of Archaeology at 225-342-8200 or

For Professional Archaeologists with Questions about Human Remains

  • Human remains must be treated with sensitivity and care when they are encountered or are expected to be encountered on an archaeological project. In Louisiana, all unmarked burials and abandoned cemeteries are the responsibility of the Division of Archaeology under R.S. 8:671-681. This includes all Native American grave sites as well as many historic Euro-American, African-American, and other cemeteries. This section provides guidance for how burials and human remains must be addressed on any archaeological project.  See General Permit Guidelines for more detailed information on when a permit must be obtained from the Division.
  • In the event human remains should be encountered during a project, work must stop immediately in the vicinity of the uncovered human remains.  Notice regarding the discovery must be made to the appropriate local law enforcement agency and the appropriate Parish Coroner's Office following the provisions of the Louisiana Unmarked Human Burial Sites Preservation Act (R.S. 8:671-871, et seq.).  The State Archaeologist must be notified within 72 hours of the discovery (225-342-8200 or  Within 24-hours of notification, the State Archaeologist shall notify any Native American tribe that has indicated interest in the area where the discovery of human remains is located.  The local law enforcement officials shall assess the nature and age of the human skeletal remains. If the coroner determines that the human skeletal remains are not a crime scene and are older than 50 years, the Division of Archaeology has jurisdiction over the remains.  See Unanticipated Discovery of an Unmarked Burial Site for more information on the process to follow in the event the Division assumes jurisdiction.  No remains will be removed from the site until jurisdiction is established and the appropriate permit is obtained from the Division.
  • All investigations on non-Federal and non-Tribal lands potentially involving human remains, including searching for a possible cemetery, delineating a cemetery, or removing burials from a cemetery, require a permit from the Division of Archaeology.

    If the project will conduct ground-disturbing investigations to determine if a cemetery is present at a given location, or if the project will be conducting ground-disturbing investigations within 100 feet of a known cemetery, download and fill out Permit to Identify the Location of an Unmarked Cemetery.

    A permit is not required for cemetery investigations (remote sensing, human remains detection dogs, or other non-ground disturbing methods) that will not involve any ground disturbance.

    If the project includes removing burials from some or all of a known cemetery, download and fill out Permit to Disinter Burials from an Unmarked Cemetery.
  • If the project is occurring on federal or Tribal lands, NAGPRA protocols take precedence over state law, and the appropriate federal agency is responsible for contacting the Tribes and overseeing the consultations.
  • An Unmarked Burials Permit is not required for a Phase I survey or Monitoring project, unless documentary research has shown the project area may have human remains present, or the project area is located immediately adjacent to a property known to contain human remains (for example, monitoring utility placement along the edge of a known cemetery).  Contact the Division of Archaeology (225-342-8200 or to discuss whether a permit is required for your project.
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