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Threats To Maryland Burial Sites

Burial sites are irreplaceable cultural sites that allow us to communicate with our heritage. They are seriously threatened today
by the changes in land use in our state–changes that are sometimes characterized by typically American impatience to achieve
instant results. Burial sites, however, are frequently more seriously threatened than other cultural sites because of the lack of
understanding of their importance and uniqueness.

More specifically, in Maryland today:

  • Grave markers and funerary objects in many old cemeteries have been damaged, destroyed, or removed illegally.
  • Those who desecrate or illegally disturb burial sites are rarely prosecuted under the law.
  • Under present law, cemeteries and graves that are determined to be “abandoned” can be relocated without the knowledge, approval, or involvement of descendants or interested parties.
  • There are no procedures in present law governing the accidental discovery of human remains.
  • In most jurisdictions, there is no official inventory or register of burial sites.
  • Despite provisions in Maryland law for the voluntary, (as opposed to compulsory), granting of access by a landowner, to burial sites located on his property, descendants and interested parties are often denied access to family burial sites.
  • Covenants recorded in the land records, protecting burial sites and excluding them from the sale of adjoining property, are often overlooked or disregarded during title searches, resulting in burial sites being disturbed or destroyed during development.
  • While Maryland law provides that local burial sites preservation advisory boards may be created, only a few counties have established such boards.
  • There are no established guidelines for scientific or historical studies of burial sites defined within the law nor are there provisions for authorizing such studies in the authority for disinterment.
  • The present criminal laws lack the flexibility to deal with different kinds and degrees of criminal acts regarding burial sites and to “match the penalty to the crime.”
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