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Human Remains

What to do if you find human remains

Occasionally, people in Utah find human remains. Remains can be exposed through erosion, through digging (as in digging a foundation for a house), or through some other kind of ground disturbance. Human remains are sometimes found by people just out for a hike.

If you do find human remains while you are out or if you are digging, do not disturb them further. In Utah it is a third degree felony for anyone except an archaeologist, the Medical Examiner’s office, law enforcement, or a licensed mortician to disturb, move, remove, conceal, or destroy human remains.

No matter what the age of the bones appears to be, leave them in place and call the local law enforcement agency. If the remains are ancient, law enforcement will contact the Antiquities Section of State History.


For law enforcement agencies

If you determine that the remains are not recent, call the federal agency that owns the land. If they are located on private or state lands, you can call the Antiquities Section at 801-245-7245 for assistance. Do not remove human remains from the ground.


What happens to the remains

For the remains of indigenous peoples, the Utah State Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and federal NAGPRA provide a process through which they can be repatriated and reburied. See more information on Utah State NAGPRA and federal NAGPRA.


Applicable Laws

Utah law

76-9-704 – Abuse or Desecration of a Dead Human Body

9-8-309. Ancient human remains on nonfederal lands that are not state lands

9-9-403. Ownership and disposition of Native American remains
Additional legal authority is found in Utah’s Administrative Code

R455-5 Ancient Human Remains

Federal NAGPRA website


Contact

If you have questions about human remains, contact Derinna Kopp at 801-245-7245.