Friday, April 27, 2007

Law provides few protections for Indian mounds
When it comes right down to it, the good will of private landowners is often what stands between saving Indian mounds and losing these pieces of ancient history.

“There are no legal obligations regarding mounds on private property, as long as the owners don’t disturb any burials that might be there,” said Linda Hall, a state archaeologist based in Asheville.

In the case of Cowee Mound, preservation efforts by the Hall family ensured its survival. The family owned the mound for 175 years until the death of Katherine Hall Porter in 2002. The mound then passed to her husband, James Porter. He and his heirs worked with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to make sure that it would be protected.

They give the law for NC:
North Carolina’s Unmarked Human Burial and Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act requires that anybody “knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe” human skeletal remains are being disturbed notify the county’s medical examiner. If the remains are discovered because of construction or plowing, those activities must cease immediately. Work can’t resume without the state’s go-ahead.

If the remains are archaeologically significant — not a modern skeleton, in other words — the state archaeologist’s office is in charge. State archaeologists have 48 hours to make arrangements with the landowner to either protect or remove the remains. At the end of the 48-hour period, the law states the chief archaeologist “shall have no authority over the remains” and can’t stop the resumption of work on the property.

That seems a sensible compromise to me, require notification and removal by state actors in the case of human remains. After all, any human remains would need to have a medical examiner out to check for foul play anyway. Otherwise, unless you decide to go all Kelo on private property rights, it's a constitutional issue.