Bioarchaeology Program


The OSA Bioarchaeology Program is statutorily responsible for investigating, preserving, and reinterring ancient human physical remains (Code of Iowa, Chapter 263B). We work closely with an OSA Indian Advisory Council and affiliated tribes. Preservation of burial sites is always the preferred treatment. In cases where significant sites are threatened, the State Archaeologist (OSA Director) has the authority to deny permission to disinter (Code of Iowa, 263B.9).

History of the Bioarchaeology Program at OSA

The OSA Bioarchaeology Program was formerly called the Burials Program. The title was changed in 2014 to more accurately portray the program's primary mission: the protection of all ancient human remains (older than 150 years) in the state of Iowa, regardless of whether they are associated with a formal burial. The Bioarchaeology Program is involved in numerous projects throughout Iowa. Since 1976, when Iowa's burial protection law was passed, the program has handled over 3,000 projects in all of Iowa's 99 counties. Field projects and modern development result in the discovery of many new sites and acquisition of new information on previously recorded sites. Field work done by the Bioarchaeology Program involves verification of reports of possible burials or mounds, as well as examination of mounds or mound groups and other burials that are threatened by erosion, construction, quarrying activities, or vandalism. Many sites require periodic monitoring. The Bioarchaeology Program also manages collections of human skeletal remains that are turned over to the OSA by museums, other repositories, and individuals. All human remains at the OSA are examined and documented using standard techniques. Another primary task of the Bioarchaeology Program is maintaining compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which involves consultation with tribes that trace their heritage to Iowa and the preparation of human remains for repatriation.

The Reburial Process

Reburials have been conducted in Iowa since 1976. Four cemeteries on state-owned land have been dedicated and set aside for this purpose. The cemeteries are located in western, eastern, north central, and south central Iowa. Remains are reinterred in the cemetery nearest to the original burial site, and a ceremony may be held at or shortly after each reburial in accordance with the wishes of the Indian Advisory Council or affiliated tribes. Occasionally remains are reburied at the original burial site. The remains of over 2,000 individuals have been reburied in the four cemeteries since the program began including recent repatriations to the Iowa and Sac & Fox tribes.

Collections, Research Opportunities, and Other Inquiries

  • University of Iowa Stanford Collection: This PDF provides detailed information on the UI Stanford Collection. This is a partially documented collection of human skeletal remains available for scholarly research, representing early 20th century residents of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Inquiries about Native American human remains housed at the OSA should be directed to Lara Noldner at the address below.

Bioarchaeology Program
Office of the State Archaeologist
700 Clinton Street Building
University of Iowa
Iowa City IA 52242

Additional Information About Protecting Iowa's Burials

IAC Recommended Resources

PDF Resources