There's More Under the Earth than Digger's Hotline Discoveries

Rich Wagner, Executive Vice President

There are many interesting stories surrounding proposed projects that serve as great reminders for us to make sure we are not damaging sacred property…from a grave site to an archeological site to a Native American Mound.

I remember working on a business park design that was a former WWII munitions manufacturing site. We tried hard to find every related existing map to be prepared for any encounter during construction. It was close to the first “shovel” of dirt, and low and behold, a shiny pipe turns up and no one knew what it was. After some engineering forensics, we determined it was a former steam pipe. While this seemed minor and had nothing to do with historical or protected sites, it shows some of the unknowns for which no records can be found.

We can’t stress enough the importance of avoiding damage to historical items mentioned previously in this piece. All burial sites in Wisconsin are protected under State law, no matter their origin, people interred, or if they are marked or unmarked. Burial sites range from Native American mounds to Civil War cemeteries.

In 1991, burials from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s were found during construction of a service road for an addition to Froedtert Memorial Hospital in Wauwatosa. The County had no records, construction was halted, and appropriate measures were taken. A church in Eau Claire was ready to build an addition for an elevator, when parishioners mentioned 100 unmarked graves on that site that needed to be recognized. No matter how much research you do, there are numerous areas of unmarked graves, Native American mounds, and other historical artifacts.

Most Importantly:

  • It is illegal to dig into a burial site or to disturb mounds or burial markers without authorization from the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
  • Private landowners who own human burial sites have rights and responsibilities to protect the burials from disturbance. In return, they may be eligible for property tax exemptions.
  • Local governments and agencies must also protect human burial sites on their properties. There are special rules that determine how and when municipalities can sell burial sites.  Towns and municipalities may also be responsible for abandoned cemeteries within their jurisdictions.

If You Find a Burial Site:

  • Contact your local police or sheriff’s department immediately.
  • Do not move or handle the remains.
  • Stop all ground disturbance immediately.
  • Contact the Wisconsin Historical Society at 800-342-7834.

The Wisconsin Historical Society website,, has information on regulations and is an interesting read if you enjoy history! Or click here: Is this a Native American burial site . . . or a primitive loading dock? | MyTownMatters for another interesting read on Indian grounds.