A recent article for Atlas Obscura explores the interesting and often confusing legality surrounding property law in relation to grave sites. Coal mining pursuits in West Virginia have stretched up into the mountains and on occasion require navigation around generations old grave sites and remnants of forgotten mining towns.

Tanya D. Marsh of Wake Forest School of Law and Associate Reporter for Restatement Fourth of Property lends her voice to the conversation.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

“From state to state, laws vary widely with respect to human remains discovered during construction other land-altering projects, says Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law who studies the treatment of graves and remains. “In some states, there is no reporting requirement at all,” Marsh says.

In West Virginia, the law was updated in 2010 to stipulate that if human remains are uncovered during alterations on private land, work must stop while the sheriff and historic preservation officers investigate, Marsh adds. The year before, the AP had reported that some mountaintop graves across the state had been relocated or lost, sometimes without the descendants’ families ever hearing about it until they went looking. “In all states, the kin of the deceased have rights to protect graves,” Marsh says. While this can provide some protection for marked graves, Marsh adds, “the only way to protect unmarked graves is for the state to enforce its laws regarding grave desecration.”

The long-term future of these isolated mountaintop cemeteries is uncertain—but they’re a stark reminder of how the activities of the living can affect the dead.”

Read the full article here.

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Jessica Leigh Hester

Jessica Leigh Hester is a staff writer at Atlas Obscura.

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