Washington Human Remains (11-WA-b)
Developers in Washington should be aware that they might discover human remains during project construction. In Washington, every person has the duty to notify the coroner and local law enforcement of the discovery of any human remains in the most expeditious manner possible. R.C.W. § 68.50.645(1). The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) handles the disposition of non-forensic remains, while the county coroner handles the disposition of forensic remains.
Human Remains Process
11-WA-b .1 to 11-WA-b.3 – Cease all Activity at the Site
Any person who discovers human remains on a project site through ground disturbing activities must immediately cease any activity that may cause further disturbance to the area. Additionally, the developer must take reasonable efforts to protect the area from further disturbance and must report the presence of the discovered human remains to the county coroner and local law enforcement in the most expeditions manner possible. R.C.W. § 68.50.645(2).
11-WA-b.4 – Determine If Remains are Forensic or Non-Forensic
After being notified, the county coroner assumes jurisdiction over the human remains. Within five days of being notified, the coroner will make a determination of whether the remains are forensic or non-forensic. R.C.W. § 68.50.010(3).
11-WA-b.5 to 11-WA-b.6 – Are the Remains Forensic?
The coroner retains jurisdiction over forensic remains where the circumstances of the death indicate death by unnatural or unlawful means. R.C.W. § 68.50.010; R.C.W. § 68.50.645(3). Any remains that do not qualify as forensic remains are considered non-forensic remains. If the remains are non-forensic, the coroner must notify the DAHP within two business days and the DAHP assumes jurisdiction of the remains. R.C.W. § 68.50.010.
11-WA-b.7 – Notify Local Cemeteries and Appropriate Tribal Governments
The DAHP must notify the appropriate local cemeteries (as determined at the discretion of the DAHP), and all affected Indian tribes via certified mail and must also contact the appropriate tribal cultural resources staff within two business days. R.C.W. § 68.50.645(3)(b). “Affected tribes” include the following:
- Those federally recognized tribes with usual and accustomed areas in the jurisdiction where the remains were found;
- Those federally recognized tribes that submit to the department maps that reflect the tribe’s geographical area of cultural affiliation;
- Other tribes with historical and cultural affiliation in the jurisdiction where the remains were found.
However, notification of the affected tribes does not create a presumption that the remains are Indian. R.C.W. § 68.50.645(3)(b).
11-WA-b.8 to 11-WA-b.9– Make Initial Determination of Whether Remains are Indian or Non-Indian
To the extent it is possible, the state physical anthropologist from DAHP must make an initial determination of whether the skeletal remains are Indian or non-Indian within two business days of notification that non-forensic remains have been found. R.C.W. § 68.50.645(3)(c).
11-WA-b.10 – Excavate and Dispose of Remains
If it is determined that the remains are non-Indian the DAHP will excavate and dispose of the remains. The developer may continue the project once the remains are successfully removed. Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historical Preservation - Human Remains and Cemeteries Program Webpage.
11-WA-b.11 to 11-WA-b.14 – Notify all Affected Indian Tribes
If the state physical anthropologist determines that the remains are Indian, the DAHP must notify all affected Indian tribes via certified mail within two business days and contact the appropriate tribal cultural resources staff. R.C.W. § 68.50.645(3)(c).
Affected Indian tribes have five business days to respond via telephone or writing to the DAHP as to their interest in the remains. R.C.W. § 68.50.645(3)(d).
If the affected tribe expresses interest in dealing with the remains, then they will be allowed to handle the remains. The DAHP handles all consultation concerning the remains with the affected tribes and other involved parties as to their future preservation, excavation, and disposition. Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historical Preservation - Human Remains and Cemeteries Program Webpage.
The developer may continue the project once the remains have been removed.
11-WA-b.15 to 11-WA-b.16 – Proceed with Investigation
If the remains are determined to be forensic, the county coroner and local law enforcement, will deal with the remains under their ordinary procedures. The developer may continue the project once the investigation is complete.
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Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation
Human Remains Process Contact 360.586.3534 guyabbazabbatasa@dahpabbazabbawaabbazabbagov Visit Website