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What To Do If You Find Human Remains

Chapter 872, Florida Statutes makes it 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.

Encountering Unmarked Human Remains

The laws protecting human burials and human remains are not selective. While we mostly think of traditional cemeteries with headstones and special plantings as final resting places, there are other kinds of burial sites. Before Europeans came to Florida some five centuries ago, our state was home to hundreds of generations of American Indian people. The Timucua, the Apalachee, the Calusa, and many tribes whose names are unknown, followed very specific SACRED burial practices. Many people were interred in burial mounds and temple mounds that still exist on the landscape today. Some of these sites are included in parks and preserves in public ownership, but many more exist on private land. In the mid-1980s Florida's cemetery law was revised to directly address the protection and respectful treatment of American Indian burial sites, as well as all other burials not in marked cemeteries. Section 872.02, Florida Statutes, was amended to specifically include burial mounds and earthen or shell monuments containing human skeletal remains or associated burial artifacts. Section 872.05, Florida Statutes, was added to ensure that proper steps were taken when unmarked human remains were encountered.

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.

  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.

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