The Arkansas Burial Law

Act 753 of 1991 made the desecration of a human grave or the purchase, sale, or bartering of human remains and associated grave goods a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense, and a Class D felony for subsequent offenses. The display of human remains for profit is a Class B misdemeanor. Furthermore, provisions were made to insure that the study of human remains be conducted in accordance with standards contained in A State Plan for the Conservation of Archeological Resources in Arkansas. See the following link to the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the Arkansas State Plan Guidelines.       

Act 1533 of 1999 amended the penalty for the desecration or trade of human remains to a Class D felony on the first offense and a Class C felony for subsequent offenses. The penalty for the display of human remains was increased to a Class C felony. Human burials in Arkansas have long been threatened by looting, grave robbing and loss through development activities.

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program now has in place a permit system to enable the legal excavation of human remains by qualified professional archeologists. In addition, guidelines were developed, in consultation with the State Archeologist, for archeologists and law enforcement agencies that present the highlights of the Unmarked Graves Act and provide steps to be taken if a violation is detected.

WHAT ARCHEOLOGISTS SHOULD KNOW

Act 753 of 1991, as amended, prohibits the desecration of human remains in unregistered cemeteries and the trade or commercial display of remains or associated burial artifacts. The Act applies to all human remains, whether on private or public property, land or water. Through Act 753, the Arkansas General Assembly intends that all human remains, regardless of ethnic origin, cultural background, religious affiliation, or date of burial or disposal should receive equal treatment and respect for human dignity.

Archeologists doing research in Arkansas should adhere to the following procedures when dealing with human burial remains:

1. Under Section 7 of Act 753, archeologists must justify projects that will encounter burials or have the potential to encounter burials by sending the State Historic Preservation Officer a copy of the research design or mitigation plan for the project. The justification must show that the archeologist has the consent of the landowner to excavate on the property and that the project archeologist is employed by the State of Arkansas, the United States government, or meets the U.S. Department of the Interior's Professional Qualification Standards found in 36 Code of Federal Regulations Part 61. The AHPP will acknowledge receipt in writing.

2. If human remains are encountered, the archeologist must notify the State Historic Preservation Officer, who will assist with the consultation process indicated in Section 7 of Act 753.

3. The disposition of any human remains must follow the procedures in Sections 8 and 9 of Act 753.

4. Scientific recovery and forensic studies should be conducted according to Appendix C of "A State Plan of the Conservation of Archeological Resources in Arkansas."

5. One copy of the final report should be filed with the Registrar of the Arkansas Archeological Survey and one with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

For more information, contact the Arkansas Archeological Survey at 2475 N. Hatch Ave., Fayetteville, AR 72704, (501) 575-3556 or https://archeology.uark.edu/ or the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1100 North Street, Little Rock 72201, (501) 324-9880.