Exhumation / Grave Relocation

About Exhumation / Grave Relocation

It’s never something you want to think about, and it should always be the last resort option, but there are times when the cemetery has to be relocated to preserve and protect the remains.

Exhumation, also known as grave relocation, is the method of relocating the buried remains of our ancestors to a new burial site in a respectful manner.

Grave relocation involves the identification of each grave and the manual excavation of the remains buried. Human remains, features of the coffin and grave goods are exposed, and their positions in the grave are carefully documented. Maps and photographs of each grave are made using standard archeological recovery techniques.

Once the excavation and examination have been completed, the interred and their grave goods are inventoried and carefully wrapped in acid-free tissue. Human remains are anatomically organized and all materials are stored in specially designed containers, specified by each state and reinterment facility. The aim of reinterment is to preserve as much of the original mortuary significance as possible.

As far as the law is concerned, the only provision for the actual excavation is that the work should be done “under the supervision of the county’s governing body, which will hire a funeral director approved by this State.” In fact, this ensures that a funeral director should be retained in order to ensure respect for the deceased.

The concern is that low bid firms hired by the governing body or the funeral director have no knowledge of osteology (human skeletal remains), period burial practices (such as the types of coffins used during different periods, or the social status represented by different practices), or even how to properly excavate human remains.

Often these low-bid firms use backhoes to scoop up some soil and dump it in a pasteboard box, claiming that no bone would be left anyway. Or sometimes the laborers they hire have no idea what they are actually looking for. The result – human remains are disrespected by being overlooked, damaged, and destroyed.

But more than that, all of us lose part of our heritage – we miss the opportunity to have the dead teach the living – about diet, disease, social customs, family heritage, and lifeways.

What are the main reasons for doing so?

Exhumations can occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • Danger in visiting as there may be drug addicts or crime, given that old cemeteries have no 24-hour security
  • Convenience for the family to visit and pay their respects
  • The old burial site is in a terrible condition, possibly due to floods, pest infestation, such as white ants, and lack of regular maintenance.
  • Removal from the original grave site to a new grave acquired in the same or other
  • Transfer from a public grave to a family grave
  • A Coroners instruction that requires further forensic examination of the deceased
  • Removal for cremation
  • Removal for burial in another cemetery.

What are the procedures involved?

  1. Hiring expert for grave relocation, along with the family members
  2. Prayers and a worship ritual are conducted
  3. Exhumation of the remains
  4. Remains are placed in an urn or a casket
  5. Remains are transferred into the new burial plot or columbarium
  6. New tombstone construction (if burial is preferred)