Why Do These Laws Exist?
Three fundamental principles guide all state and federal laws
dealing with human remains, artifacts, archeological sites and
- 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.