ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Who Owns the Dead?

Updated on March 10, 2013
Who owns them now?
Who owns them now?

Seems like a silly question. I mean, someone dies and is buried in a pre-bought burial plot inside a well groomed cemetery. The immediate family members are the ones who "own" the dead the relative as to final disposition. They are the ones who make frequent visits to it to pay respects and recall the living days, groom the site from debris.

But, over time, a long time (we are talking 50+ years) the burial site becomes forgotten to a large extent. Those who were impacted by the death of the loved one are themselves dead and the more remote family members really have no connection anymore. As time continues, there is a total disconnect and after hundreds of years, the plot may even vanish. So, at this point, who owns the remains? Some distant family member? What if there are none to be located?

So, when a anthropologist digs up a skeleton in an unmarked grave and tests reveal the remains are from a famous king or other person, does he own them? He found them. Are they now his personal property? Are they the descendants property, assuming some can be found? Are they the property of the province or state found in? Are they the property of the country found in?

Well, in the USA, there is the NAGPRA Act, that states if American Indian bones are found they must be returned to to descendant communities that can establish a link to them. This 1990 law now has been amended to include remains from truly ancient times even if no clear link to the remains exist. This makes the role of the archaeologists more difficult when they find bones dating back thousands of years. Now, any Indian bones will be subject to this act.

The remains and artifacts provide a wealth of information of data and scientific information, yet when found, they must be returned to a tribe even if no proof or link to them exists. This occurs before tests occur on the remains. The law has forced museums and federal agencies to return 40,000 remains and objects since 2009 to various Indian tribes. But not all remains are American Indians, there are 115,000 remains that are unidentified to any culture or group. Who owns them?

The legal battle was over a 9,200 year old skeleton, found in 1996 in Washington State. The court had to decide who owned it, the thinly connected Indian tribe or the educational community who found it. The court said the scientists had the right to examine the bones and burial site before handing them over to the tribe.

Nobody was really happy.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thanks, just the question seems to promote thought.

    • Nicole Winter profile image

      Nicole A. Winter 

      5 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Fascinating, perrya! It's never something I had considered before, I just assumed that society at large, (mostly the scientific community,) has the right (after a significant amount of time has passed, of course,) to dig up whoever they want & study their remains. Thanks for publishing this, I pinned it to my Awesome Hubs from Awesome Hubbers, board on Pinterest.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)