Bioarchaeology Program


The OSA Bioarchaeology Program is responsible for the proper treatment of ancient human remains and burial sites (greater than 150 years old) in Iowa (Code of Iowa 263B.7-9, 523I.316.6, 716.5, and Iowa Administrative Code 685-11.1). This means working with developers to avoid known burial sites, investigating and documenting inadvertent discoveries, advising on best practices for preserving burials in place, and reinterring human remains in collaboration with the appropriate descendant communities. We work closely with an OSA Indian Advisory Council and 26 tribes who are signatories to the National NAGPRA-approved "Iowa Process" for the reburial of culturally unaffiliated human remains.

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 OSA Indian Advisory Council

The OSA's Indian Advisory Council (IAC) meets regularly with Bioarchaeology Program staff, the State Archaeologist, and representatives of the State Historic Preservation Office, as well as representatives of other state agencies and tribes as needed or requested. The purpose of meetings is to keep the IAC informed of all burial- and human remains-related projects in which the Bioarchaeology Program is engaged. Topics of discussion include: any development projects that have the potential to adversely affect known burial locations, instances of inadvertent discoveries, the OSA's NAGPRA work, and opportunities for public education regarding our efforts toward burial site protection.

Indian Advisory Council Members

  • Suzanne Wanatee Buffalo - Meskwaki
  • Jacki Rand - Choctaw
  • Lance Foster - Iowa
  • Joe Coulter - Potawatomi
  • Julie Martineau - Lakota
  • Mark Ravenhair - Oglala Sioux

In Memoriam: Don Wanatee - Meskwaki

2021 saw the passing of Don Wanatee. Among a myriad of other achievements, he was a founder of Iowa's burial laws and therefore the OSA's Indian Advisory Council and Burials/Bioarchaeology Program. As a lifetime member of the Council he was a constant guide and will remain a guiding force for the OSA in preserving the past, honoring Native communities past and present, and upholding our responsibilities for ancient burial site protection and respectful treatment of ancient human remains.

Because the vast majority of Iowa lands are privately owned, we rely a great deal on the stewardship of Iowans to protect known burial sites, which include ancient and historic cemeteries and constructed mounds and other earthworks. On state-owned lands, we rely on the stewardship of Department of Natural Resources Staff. On behalf of the Indian Advisory Council and the Office of the State Archaeologist, we recognize the stewards that have greatly assisted the Bioarchaeology Program.

Thanks all for the protections you provide as good stewards of Iowa's priceless cultural resources and heritage!

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.

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