Business Q&A: Three steps to heed if human remains are discovered on company construction site

Miles Tolbert, director of Crowe & Dunlevy, addresses this eerie question with Halloween only a few days away.
by Paula Burkes Published: October 26, 2012

Q: How common is this?

A: In a comparatively young and rural state like Oklahoma, discovering a human skeleton during construction is fairly uncommon, but it does happen. Just this past summer, Oklahoma Natural Gas workers found human remains while working near Shawnee. I personally became interested in the subject 10 years ago, when utility workers found skeletons while digging a trench behind a house on my block in Heritage Hills. As you can imagine, it caused a lot of excitement in the neighborhood until it was finally determined that the bones had been buried there decades before by a physician who taught anatomy to medical students.

Far more common than the discovery of actual human remains is the discovery of bones that people think are human but in fact belong to a horse, cow or other large animal.

Q: What happens with the remains?

A: Once notified, the law enforcement agency contacts the chief medical examiner to determine whether the body was part of a crime. If the conclusion is that foul play was not involved, the chief medical examiner notifies the state archaeologist and the state historic preservation officer, who are to determine whether the skeletal remains are directly connected to an existing tribal group. If so, tribal leaders are consulted to determine a culturally appropriate form of final disposition. If the state archaeologist finds no link to tribal groups, the body is reburied in a public cemetery.


by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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