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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Thomas E Browner
Past President, Illinois State
Past President, Hawkeye State Archaeological
Past President, Central States