Unless there are some special considerations involved, your friend's
land is safe. Even under the "special" considerations I cover later,
ownership remains unchanged.
First are these protections under Tennessee Law:
"(a) It shall be deemed an act of trespass and a misdemeanor for any
persons, natural or corporate, to excavate and remove artifacts from
the private land of any owner without first obtaining the owner's
(b) No person, corporation, partnership, association or any other
entity shall excavate, damage, vandalize, or remove any artifact from
or otherwise alter or deface any site listed in the Tennessee register
of archaeological sites without first obtaining landowner permission."
While it is flattering that these organizations contacted your friend
about the mound, they are private organizations with only a slender
link to the state and do not have the power to force anything. The
two laws above protect you from any "forced" excavation or study by
either of these groups without consent.
There are some "special" considerations I mentioned which could call
for state intervention. But that is "intervention" rather than the
seizure of a piece of private land.
One of these has to do with the Tennessee State Cemetery Law. "Under
the new law, looting of Indian graves and the destruction of
prehistoric cemeteries are now illegal. "Termination of land use as
cemetery" procedures are used to excavate and relocate prehistoric
graves prior to site destruction." - - - The intervention would only
take place if your friend had decided to destroy the mound, build
something on top of it or decide to excavate on his own or through a
commercial firm. Unless the mound were in danger, the terms found
here would not apply:
http://www.cr.nps.gov/seac/coping/5-moore.htm - You can read the whole
law if you wish.
After such an intervention to protect burials and artifacts from
immediate destruction, title to the land remains with the current
Covering the mound with grass and leaving it alone does not constitute
an immediate threat.
Another special circumstance would be if the mound were in the path of
a new roadway and the mound was taken by the state as part of the
right-of-way. Then it would be formally excavated and studied by
An indian mound on private property is just that, private property.
Now even though is not (officially) a recognized site of
archaeological significence, at least from what you know, the mere
fact it has been locally known as a mound for many years means that
'it is' on somebody's 'watch list.'
In relationship to the "immediate danger to artifacts" reasons for
intervention mentioned above, the removal of the trees would have been
a significent change. That alone would have drawn attention from the
organizations you mentioned. Their contact was for two main reasons.
The most important, was to discover if the removal of trees was the
precursor to additional work at the site, such as construction, etc.
If they had found that to be the case, they would have involved the
state due to the cemetery law.
However, that does not entail a seizure or transfer of property. It
merely means that certain procedures must be followed before
development can continue.
The removal of the trees could also have triggered the following:
Code Book: Tennessee Code
Citation: §11- 6-111
Section Title: Archeology: threatened site--contract with corporations
"Authorizes the Division of Archeology to make a contract with any
corporation or organization for the conduct of archeology upon any
site, particularly sites threatened with damage or destruction by
public or private construction projects." - - The term "private
construction projects" is what makes it applicable in your case. The
removal of the trees would have constituted enough of a signal for
contact to be made and such contacts are usually made through
archaeological associations or historic societies.
Also, since the change of ownership seems fairly recent, one of the
things various archaeological societies, historical societies now do,
is watch for property transfers and try to make new owners understand
they have something of cultural value and some sort of contact often
follows. It could be your friend is simply caught up in that cycle.
The power of a state or agency to seize land for the purpose of
archaeological preservation is so weak that most every state has to
depend on private donations of time and money to put together
acquisition funds then try and convince the owners to sell.
Your friends land is safe. If anybody wants it, they have to buy it.
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Terms - tennessee native american historic sites law, tennessee cemetery law
Personal experience as archaeologist
If I may clarify anything, please ask.