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Tennessee State Archaeology Statues


Tennessee's Archaeology statutes contain the main source of protection for Native American non-mortuary cultural resources on state and private land. They also address accidental disturbance of human burials and treatment of Native American burials (the statutes concerning intentional disturbance of burial sites are covered in the Burial Site Statues article).

The Archaeology statutes create a Division of Archaeology within the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), headed by a state archaeologist. The Division of Archaeology is charged with maintaining a statewide program of archaeology. One of the purposes of this program is to preserve archaeological sites (TCA 11-6-101).

The statutes contain specific definitions of terms such as "artifacts", "burial grounds", and "burial objects" - definitions of terms are especially important when a person is being charged and prosecuted for a criminal violation of the law (TCA 11-6-102).

The Archaeology statutes give the Division of Archaeology the exclusive right to excavate archaeological sites on state lands and make it a crime to excavate such sites without a permit from the Division of Archaeology (TCA 11-6-105). Defacement of sites or artifacts on state land is also a crime (TCA 11-6-106). The statues also state that all artifacts excavated on state lands are the property of the state of Tennessee and all such artifacts and information acquired from excavations are to be utilized solely for scientific purposes or public education (TCA 11-6-104 and TCA 11-6-105).

The Archaeology statutes direct the Tennessee Department of Transportation to enter into agreements with the Division of Archaeology and the Federal Highway Administration and to spend state and federal funds to for archaeological survey, salvage, and preservation on TDOT lands and rights-of-way (TCA 11-6-113).

The statutes allow the state archaeologist to reserve from sale any state lands containing archaeological sites (TCA 11-6-108). The Division of Archaeology can contract with corporations or organizations to conduct archaeology on any site on public or private land, particularly those threatened with destruction (TCA 11-6-111). Employees of the Division of Archaeology, when properly commissioned by TDEC, can have the same police powers as park rangers to enforce state laws pertaining to archaeological sites (TCA 11-6-112).

The statutes direct all state and local agencies to cooperate fully with the Division of Archaeology in general, and specifically requires such cooperation to protect sites being threatened by construction activities or to recover information from such sites before they are disturbed or destroyed. They also require state agencies to make contractors aware of the provisions of the Archaeology statutes, making the "I didn't know it was against the law to dig up graves" defense less likely in certain situations (TCA 11-6-107).

The statues prohibit the excavation and removal of artifacts on private land without the landowner's permission (TCA 11-6-109). The statutes also allow sites of particular significance on public or private land to be placed on the Tennessee archaeological registry (TCA 11-6-110). Excavation and vandalism of these sites and the sale of artifacts taken from these sites without the landowners permission is prohibited (11-6-109).

The Archaeology statutes deal with "unanticipated discoveries" of human remains on both public and private land. They require that anyone who encounters human remains to immediately stop disturbing the ground in the area and to notify the local coroner and law enforcement agency. If there are no forensic or criminal concerns - in other words, the remains are not those of a victim of a crime - the coroner must notify the Division of Archaeology (TCA 11-6-107).

The statutes prohibit the import and export of human remains into and out of the state except for medical or legal reasons, or except for purposes of burial or reburial (TCA 11-6-118).

The treatment of Native American human remains and associated burial objects is also addressed specifically in the Archaeology statutes. The law requires notification to Native American representatives when a landowner is seeking permission to legally move Native American graves according to the state Cemetery laws. If permission to move Native American graves is granted by the courts, Native American representatives must be allowed to monitor the excavations (TCA 11-6-116). The Division of Archaeology can study any Native American remains excavated in the state for a period of one year. The remains must then be released for reburial according to Native American traditions, and any burial objects associated with Native American human remains have to be reburied with those remains (TCA11-6-119). The Archaeology statutes also prohibit the public display of Native American human remains (TCA 11-6-104 and TCA 11-6-117).

Complete Text of Tennessee Archaeology Statutes at Tennessee Archaeology Network

Federal Laws Federal Agencies Tennessee Laws State Agencies
American Indian Religious Freedom Act Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Archaeology Statues Division of Archaeology
Archaeological Resources Protection Act National Park Service Burial Statues Historical Commission
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act U.S. Forest Service Sacred Sites Policy Review Heritage Conservation Trust Fund
National Historic Preservation Act


Preserving Native American Historic Sites