Rex Dalton provides an update on the latest attempt to revise NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act):
Under a new proposal, the bones at museums, universities and federal facilities across the nation could be given to Native American tribes now living in the area from which the remains were excavated, even if the skeletons are not culturally identifiable to the tribes.
This would be a significant change in the way NAGPRA is currently enforced. As it stands now cultural affiliation has to be identified before remains and artifacts can be repatriated – that is what the Kennewick lawsuit was about. Advocates seeking the revisions argue that this is a natural progression of the NAGPRA process. Opponents argue that:
But major scientific organizations strongly dispute this view, calling the move “illegal” because it goes beyond the Congressional law, and a “divisive” manoeuvre that may shatter decades of working relationships between scientists and tribes. [bolding mine - afarensis] “The rules would be disastrous,” says Phillip Walker, an anthroplogist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A former member of NAGPRA’s seven-person review committee, Walker helped prepare the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) comments.
I have to say that I am somewhat sympathetic to this latter view. The relationship between anthropologists and Native Americans has been contentious and difficult for quite a while. This comes at a time when anthropologists are learning to actually talk to people rather than just studying them and has the potential to seriously set back and impair the progress being made.
Dalton’s article goes on to say:
The AAPA says that the proposal would allow the return of almost any skeleton, even those used in medical schools, would greatly hinder anatomical teaching, and would eliminate comparative material for studies. Many of the specimens are among the oldest, offering data on the continent’s first humans.
It might also deter people from specializing in North American archaeology and anthropology resulting in less protection for archaeological sites…
Update 1: Kambiz has some thoughts on the subject as well. Following up on something Kambiz said, skeletons are found in Anasazi and Pueblo trash middens as well.
Filed under: Anthropology