Requirements and Procedures for the Transfer of Human Skeletal Remains and Funerary Objects


Tennessee state laws protect all human remains, regardless of age or cultural affiliation, and it is illegal to knowingly tamper with, excavate, or disinter human burials, gravesites, or funerary objects without a Chancery court order [T.C.A. 11-6-107(d), 39-17-311, and 39-17-312]. The guidelines, laws, and procedures described below are for the convenience of interested parties and should not be used in place of legal counsel. Individuals with legal questions or issues should retain the services of legal counsel and/or contact local law enforcement.  

If a developer or citizen encounters or accidentally exposes human remains or gravesites, regardless of the age or cultural affiliation of those remains, they are required by law to stop all work in the immediate area, and notify the medical examiner or coroner, and local law enforcement (T.C.A. 11-6-107d). The State Archaeologist should also be notified at 615-626-2025 or by email at

Recipients of federal funding or other federal assistance that have Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony are subject to compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act  ("NAGPRA"). NAGPRA compliance requirements may be triggered through a variety of federal grants and awards, as well as pandemic relief funds distributed through the CARE Act. Please be sure to verify your organization's NAGPRA obligations prior to contacting the Division of Archaeology. The TDOA can provide general assistance and guidance regarding NAGPRA compliance and process.


Transfer of Human Remains and Funerary Objects to the Division of Archaeology

Private Individuals 

The Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) may, at the discretion of the State Archaeologist, accept transfer of human remains or funerary objects from private individuals. Please contact State Archaeologist Phil Hodge at 615-626-2025 or by email at with requires or related inquiries.

Law Enforcement Agencies

For non-forensic materials in the possession of law enforcement agencies

  • A letter from the law enforcement agency addressed to the State Archaeologist requesting transfer. The letter, police report, or other documentation should include a written description and photos (if applicable) of current storage conditions. In lieu of a police report or other documentation, the letter should include an itemized list and description of the remains or objects being transferred, including: 
    • the nature and circumstances of their discovery;
    • the location of discovery by geographic coordinates or street address;
    • the chain of custody and storage location.

For law enforcement and forensic centers

  • A signed report from a forensic anthropologist or medical examiner confirming that the remains are archaeological and hold no forensic value. 

To Initiate Transfer:

  • After having verified your organization's NAGPRA obligations and received approval from the State  Archaeologist, and prepared the documentation listed above, contact TDOA's Curation and NAGPRA Care Specialist to coordinate the transfer.
  • An official TDOA Collections Tracking Memo must be signed as part of the transfer process. Copies of the Tracking Memo will be provided to the donor for their records.

What to Expect after Transfer:

  • For private individuals or parties not subject to NAGPRA, TDOA will assume responsibility for the donated human remains and/or funerary object(s) with no additional obligation to the Donor. 
  • For organizations subject to NAGPRA, if the Division agrees to accept human remains and/or funerary objects, the organization must agree to cooperate with the Division to complete the NAGPRA process and to file a joint Notice of Inventory Completion, Intent to Repatriate, or other required documents as stipulated by NAGPRA and its implementing regulations.