I received a mail package from Jerry Baker, President of Iowa Archaeological Society and the Hawkeye State Archaeological Society in the Spring of 2005 on April 26th., about a week prior to the IAS spring meeting which was hosted by the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa.  Included in the package was the written proposal from the State Archaeologist Office to follow some tribe's request to dissociate all burial material and associated artifacts from the office and the state museum.  This would mean returning the Keyes, Ellison Orr and other collections, including all burial material and associated artifacts from the State Archaeologist collections and the State Historical Society Museum to the tribes for reburial. In short, to destroy forever the legacy made by Iowa's archaeologist over the past hundred plus years that was paid for by the citizens of Iowa and sometimes federal funds as provided by law to protect, preserve and curate  our common past.  These collections have been maintained for the citizens of Iowa, past, present and future, with citizen tax dollars.  To this politically correct position, I wrote the following article which takes this position to it's logical politically correct end and handed it to the State Archaeologist, the Editor of the IAS Newsletter, the President, Past President, directors and immediate past State Archaeologist of Iowa and others.  I have heard that subsequent to this distribution, that the repatriation schedule has been tabled for the present, due to "Other voices of concern being raised".  If you are seeing this position being postulated in your state or are concerned about it happening in your state, this article should give you at least some things to ponder.  No matter which side of the position you find yourself, you may want to take a look and see if Science or Political Correctness should be the governing decision maker. If you have any comments, feel free to e-mail me.

 

POLITICALLY CORRECT AND DESTROYING OUR COMMON PAST

On April 26th I received a copy of Iowa’s proposed intention to destroy all of it’s prehistoric, culturally unidentified Native American human remains and associated artifacts through reburial.  I totally understand that this is the easy way to get away from the financial and curatorial burden of safeguarding these collections for future generations.  I also realize that it is an abrogation of their responsibilities and trust.

I am not a right wing kook or racist. I realize that staying quiet is expected and taking a scientific stand is politically incorrect. It is much easier to discard science and the responsibility for the study of prehistoric cultures and their relationships through time and remain silent.  The list of tribes that are affiliated with this anti-science position is manifest proof that none of these tribes could ever be linked to the unidentified remains. In fact, many of the tribes on the list lived on the East coast of this nation until the late 1700’s.  Therefore, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act could never in good conscience be applied to these remains.  There is just no blood linkage or proof of relationship.  Imagine if you opened the paper in 3005 and saw that government decided to let American Buddhist Japanese have the total say over all burial remains, associated artifacts and their history in the United States from 1600 to the present day of 3005.  Imagine that this control did not have to consider the original racial, cultural or religious make up of these groups. Sounds ridiculous, it would be the government giving a minority group, with a different religion, possibly a different racial background total control of something they are not related to.  That is exactly what the government bureaucrats are now doing. The dates are just changed from a possible 50,000 B.C. to 1600 A.D. and modern tribes are substituted for Japanese Buddhist.  Yes I chose the Japanese as the archaeological evidence shows that many of this nation’s oldest remains are Caucasian and possibly came from that area of the world.  Naturally the tribes would contest this, as legend and myth says they were always here or at least around here somewhere. Rather than continue as a curator and research facilities, the State Archaeologist Office and the State Historical society should naturally wish to disassociate themselves from the sciences of archaeology and anthropology.  Otherwise they might be confused with having a trust given to them and funded by the citizens of Iowa to safeguard these scientific resources. To be funded to make an effort to unravel the confusion of the evolution and cultural relationships of prehistoric people through time. Since the ultimate goal is to be politically correct, I must suggest that the State Historical society and State Archaeologist office be de-funded and closed, otherwise they might be confused with a pro-scientific agenda or being anthropological based agency’s of the State.

The last time I looked, anthropology was the study of races, physical, mental characteristics, distribution, customs, social relationships; including myths, religion, institutions and cultural structure and their interaction through time.  Archaeology is the scientific study of the life and culture of ancient peoples through the excavation of sites and the study of the features, artifacts, relics and other sources of information.  I have to admit, that since the State Archaeologist office made the decision to refuse to study or excavate sites with possible skeletal remains, I have had to wonder if they had a genuine commitment to anthropology and archaeology. The reports show more interest in pollen, mice mandibles and geomorphology, and less in the people who made the sites. If true, we should just fire everyone and have them get degrees in botany, zoology or geology and if they can get funded, spend the resources where they are doing their research.

Since there is no blood relationship to any of the human remains with any of the listed tribes, I must question upon what basis, other than political correctness, these decisions are being made?  If it is due to the feelings or religious feelings of any members of these tribes, the question must be asked, “Are we to set these feelings above all other groups”?  If so, on what basis?  I suggest that we look at the historical record and see what truth can be shown from the archaeological record.

There is abundant proof from the archaeological record that from 5000 B.C. through the 1600’s A.D., indigenous groups that had cemeteries had no taboos about disturbing human remains.  In countless sites, pre-existing burials were sliced through and the remains scattered to place a new burial into a grave site or mound.  If there was a religious or cultural taboo, the excavators of the grave would have stopped upon hitting the first evidence of a pre-existing remain.  The fact that it was routine to destroy the previous remains is ample evidence that there was no such religious or cultural restriction by the people present in that period.

The archaeological record is proof that once the deceased went through the proper ceremonies, burial and a given time passed, the remains had no more value than a cobble, clump of dirt or root that was in the way to the culture that did the burial.  The fact that the remains were thrown away with abandon is proof there was no cultural or religious fear of interruption of the journey to the next plane of existence, worry of violating the rights of the dead, their spirit or their families.

To give all of these tribes the right to control science is to establish that the feelings of some are supreme, the State religion.  To give such a small percentage of the State population such control is to set them above the feelings, goals and needs of everyone else, including future generations.  This is another logical reason the State Historical Society and State Archaeologist offices should be closed.  After all, if we ever want to know anything about prehistory, we can just ask the members of these modern tribal groups.  Heaven forbid that we would ever do anything or think anything that might disagree with their feelings.  So let us short cut the process and just make the pan-American militants the font of all information, close the State offices and we can all go home knowing we are totally Politically Correct.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was to allow tribes with just grievances to acquire human remains, severed heads, other body parts and the like; plus the associated artifacts or burial artifacts directly associated with those remains. Museums and other government agencies had acquired such items from the battle fields of the Indian Wars, historic cemeteries, and random finds.  These remains were identifiable to the person by name, or to the family, clan or tribe by direct association. These identifiable remains under NAPRA could be returned to the related families, clans or tribes through a claiming process.  There was supposed to be a blood relationship, and none of the archaeological community had a problem with this.  Since the passage of NAGPRA, there has been a slippery evolution of this law.  Kennewick Man was an example of bad interpretation of law. Good intentions based on open ended words, equals bad law. There should have been a termination date in NAPRA. Religious, ancestral, related, etc. should have been strictly defined or we end up with anti-science, politically correct gibberish.   Every human remain, artifact, and broken pot shard is not sacred.  To use the law to make everything back to Adam and Eve or Lucy sacred is ridiculous and a travesty to the best intent of the law and the trust placed in historical societies, museums, state archaeological offices, state and national government.

Yes the State must respect Native Americans.  They should be working with them to save what little remains of their original cultures.  The State Historical Society should fund the saving of the original tribal languages. Pay for the documentation of the stories, myths, religion and original cultural structure. Pay for the preservation, restoration and curation of tribal artifacts from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. Tribes should have a say in archaeological investigations of the historically identifiable sites, graves and religious places directly related to the tribe.  However, destroying prehistory is not and should not be on the menu unless we close down everything contrary to the modern pan-American noble savage nonsense at the same time.  Lets be honest.  Native Americans did directly affect the environment.  That is why there were no trees between the Wabash River and the Mississippi River.  Records show that thousands of buffalo would be killed for humps and tongues and the rest left to rot.  Often there were no trees within 10 miles or more of large villages, as the forest had been clear cut for wood.  I could go on, but truth is not as pretty as myth.  History is full of groups that moved, conquered, were assimilated, became extinct or changed their culture.  It has gone on for over 100,000 years and is still going on.  No one can take Native Americans back to the state that existed before 1492.  We can not even take them back to their 1830 existence.  Truth be told, most of them would not want to live like that anymore.  Today’s tribes do not exist in a DNA pure population, culture or religion. Most tribal members have lost their language, arts and traditions.  Therefore, nothing we can do in the name of political correctness can ever make up for the loss they have incurred.  Destroying the science of archaeology does nothing for modern Native American groups.  The focus of most archaeological  studies are not directly related to any modern tribal groups.  However, what is learned over time elevates all tribes as it shows that there was a very rich prehistoric cultural heritage that may have had something to do with modern tribal development in politics, art, religion and myth.  However, there is no direct relationship.  The prehistory of this country is the common heritage of all Americans. The story of the United States is a story of the land and the people that lived on it through time; including today and in the future.  Destroying human remains and artifacts affects all Americans.  It is not a blow or slight to modern Native American groups, but an attempt to tell the story of the land through the peoples that had inhabited it.  Native Americans talk about the sacred circle of life. The story of the land and all it’s peoples through time is a sacred circle.  Destroying great portions of it profits no one, and actually hurts all. 

At first human remains were defined by sex, age, height and bone abnormalities.  Fifty years ago we learned that Carbon 14 could date sites.  Then we discovered that we could date by archaeomagnetism, fluorine, and patina thickness.  Still later we began using relative dating, comparing dated material to similar artifacts and features that were discovered out of situ or were undatable. A decade ago, DNA studies began, so did growth rings in bone.  We began looking at trace minerals in bone and comparing them to modern groups and other prehistoric populations.  It even became possible to figure out where someone had lived or was born, in some cases, through trace mineral studies.  As time goes on, new and more effective study norms will develop. New techniques, more accurate equipment, whole new ways to look at data and cultural relationships will appear.  How can we continue the half blank pages of history if we destroy the unstudied partially written pages now?  I know that the remains we have are a tremendous financial burden on the State.  I understand how inviting it must be to some bureaucrats to use this excuse to free up limited storage space and financial resources.  However, destroying the prehistory of this country also destroys any chance these same tribes may have of ever understanding their true role in the development of the State and the environment that was created through the actions of their ancestors.  A small thing, and unimportant to most, but it should still be done. Scientific truth may be uncomfortable for all, but it sure beats myths and superstition.

If we are true to the entire population – past, present and future, then the State Historical Society and State Archaeologist have a responsibility, a trust to safeguard all information now in their possession and to continue prehistoric excavations, (including burials), to add to our present knowledge and to tell the entire story to the best of their ability.  As new techniques appear, they have the responsibility to go back to the remains and see what new truths they can tell us.  Of course if blood related discoveries are found, the tribes should have a say.  That say in things might go back to 1700 or a little earlier if there is definitive proof or relationship.  To make it easy on everyone, every one of the tribes on the list should be asked to identify their cemeteries to the State Archaeologist Office.  That way, the permitting process can protect these known cemeteries.  Unrelated, unidentifiable cemeteries, human remains and artifacts could then be investigated as they are discovered or found to be in harms way.

If reburial is to happen, future investigation should be allowed and each remain should be sealed in a container that will safe guard it intact for at least 500 years.  Each remain should be cataloged and marked with a unique tag and all should be in one of the State Indian cemeteries.  Before, internment, every burial should have DNA, carbon 14, bone growth ring and trace mineral studies done and any other study that has not been performed all physical data taken and extrapolations made.  A computer data base should be created for all information on all the remains and be searchable by culture, date, sex, size, trace mineral, etc.  Since all studies would have been performed, the remains could all be reburied. If new studies appeared or if there was scientific need to re-study a remain, the State would know exactly where it was and it could be recovered, studied and returned to the same location.

If these studies are denied, then the State has established a new State Religion and I suggest that the decisions made are unconstitutional, and should be challenged.

 

                        Thomas E Browner

                        Past President, Illinois State Archaeological Society

                        Past President, Hawkeye State Archaeological Society

                        Past President, Central States Archaeological Societies

                        tom@tocynbro.com