Iowa Archaeology, Cemeteries, and Historic Properties: What Developers Need to Know

Office of the State Archaeologist, University of Iowa, 2016

Historically Significant Properties are Common in Iowa
In Iowa there are almost 29,000 recorded archaeological sites, and countless more unrecorded sites. Iowa has nearly 2,500 properties and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including about 6,000 buildings. Tens of thousands more properties are likely eligible, but have not been formally evaluated. Iowa has about 4,000 known cemeteries and burial plots as well as an unknown number of prehistoric Native American burials.

All Human Skeletal Remains are Legally Protected
Human remains including those in cemeteries, burial plots, burial mounds, prehistoric graves or other deposits are protected under state law; even those unmarked or from previously unrecorded locations. If human remains are discovered, Iowa law [Code of Iowa, Sections 263B, 523I.316(6), and 716.5; IAC 685, Ch.11.1] requires that all work in the vicinity of the finding be halted, the remains are protected, local law enforcement officials are notified, and the Bioarchaeology Director at the OSA is contacted immediately (319-384-0740).

Survey is Often Required (Section 106/NEPA Compliance)
If your project requires a federal permit or receives any federal funding, it will likely need to be evaluated for historic properties in and near the project area. The project’s impact on nearby historic properties may also require evaluation. Some Iowa local governments require survey as well. Survey might be very simple, for example documentation that the area was previously disturbed, or it might require survey investigation by archaeologists or architectural historians. The Association of Iowa Archaeologists ( maintains a list of consulting firms.

A Little Planning Can Save You Time and Money
Even if you are not legally required to survey prior to construction, it is a good idea to check for previously recorded archaeological sites, cemeteries, and historic properties. It is best to know if a burial or National Register-eligible site is recorded nearby before you begin, since most of Iowa has not been surveyed by professionals. Unexpected finds can be quite expensive and potentially result in project delays or adverse publicity. The Office of the State Archaeologist ( can assist you in determining what has been previously recorded in and near your project area.

What if You Find Something?
If you encounter human remains or suspect a burial, you are obligated by Iowa law to stop work, protect the spot, and call the OSA Bioarchaeology Director (319-384-0740). If you find a non-burial site, such as a foundation or scatter of Indian artifacts, you are encouraged to contact the OSA (319-384-0732, The OSA can help evaluate your finds and advise you about all your available options.

Review & Compliance: The Section 106 Process in Iowa
Look Up National Register Sites In Iowa
Association of Iowa Archaeologists
Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist
Iowa Archeological Society