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Why Do These Laws Exist?

Three fundamental principles guide all state and federal laws dealing with human remains, artifacts, archeological sites and collecting.

  • The first is respect for religious beliefs of all Americans, including American Indians.
  • The second is respect for the dead.
  • The third is the protection of archeological sites for the benefit of all Americans, not just a few, because these sites are part of our common heritage.

Indians are proud of their ancient heritage and want people to know that this heritage extends to today. Many collectors do not realize that Native American nations today retain and protect their cultural beliefs and ceremonies. Present day Indian religions, while affected by western religions and all the trappings of the twentieth century, are still unique and deeply rooted in the places and artifacts of the past. Most Indians strongly believe that their buried dead should not be disturbed.

While respect for the dead is seemingly a universal human trait, some collectors focus on robbing Indian graves of their burial artifacts and skeletal remains. The Georgia Legislature states clearly that the intent of laws preserving and protecting buried remains “reflects respect and regard for human dignity...[and] respectful treatment of human remains in accord with the equal and innate dignity of every human being and consistent with the identifiable ethnic, cultural, and religious affiliation of the deceased” (OCGA 36-72-1).

The public realizes that many important archeological and historic sites are destroyed by modern development. Other sites are being destroyed by looters. These untrained, unqualified persons, digging only for personal gain, are nearly as destructive as bulldozers. As unique and non-renewable resources, these sites are important as places in our local, state, and national histories as well as resources of information about past lifeways of Indians, explorers, pioneers, and others. Thus laws have been passed to consider these sites in planning change and to protect them from looters. In this way important sites reflecting our common heritage may be preserved and scientifically studied. These laws do recognize personal property rights, acknowledging that privately owned artifact collections can be useful to archeologists and researchers.

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Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns
c/o Historic Preservation Division
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
2610 GA Hwy 155, SW, Stockbridge, GA 30281
Telephone: 770.389.7864
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