One Million Years B.C.

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

On February 15, 2023 we learned about the death of Raquel Welch. You might think, what does Raquel Welch have to do with archaeology? Well, a lot and a little. After her performance in the 1966 sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage Welch signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and was then “loaned” to Hammer films for One Million Years B.C., a low-budget cave-person movie. In One Million Welch played Loana, probably best remembered for her fur-trimmed bikini, battles against Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation dinosaurs, and settling conflicts between the Rock and Shell tribes.

Raquel Welch as the out-sized heroine of One Million Years B.C. (1966).

I’ve always been a big fan of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creature effects, including greats like The Valley of Gwangi (1969), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Mysterious Island (1961), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and many more. And yes, most archaeologists like dinosaurs, but cringe at the idea that archaeology has anything to do with them or that ancient humans ever even saw one—modern humans first appear around 300,000 years ago, about 65 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. A million years ago is solidly in the middle of the Pleistocene, a geological epoch that began around 2.5 million years ago. During the Pleistocene, we had lots of animals that you would recognize today—plenty of reptiles and birds and mammals—as well as megafauna like mastodons and mammoths, giant sloths, glyptodons, and more. We did have people, including Homo erectus.

One Million B.C. movie poster (1940).

So One Million Years B.C. gets a lot wrong. First, the idea of 1 million B.C. bugs me. B.C. means “before Christ,” though more people are moving to a version like BCE, which means “before the common or current era,” in other words the year 1 that our modern calendar has fixed as a starting point. So 1 million years B.C. is literally 1,000,000 years ago plus another 2,000 or so years. What’s 2,000 when we are talking millions?! I checked, and, perhaps not surprisingly, there were no scientific consultants on the film. Ray Harryhausen famously quipped that they weren’t making movies for scientists and doubted said scientists would go to see such films anyway (so wrong!). In her memoir, Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, Welch talks about her own attempt to provide some notes to the film’s director Don Chaffey, but he wasn’t interested. What I didn’t know until recently, however, is that One Million Years B.C. is a remake of the 1940 film One Million B.C., which starred Victor Mature, Carole Landis, and Lon Chaney Jr. No Harryhausen effects there, however, there was a pig dressed in a Triceratops suit, lots of out-sized lizards, and even some animals more appropriate to the time like a woolly mammoth and an armadillo dressed as its megafauna ancestor Glyptodon.

This got me wondering what the earliest cave-people movie was, and led me to D.W. Griffith’s Man’s Genesis: A Psychological Comedy Founded on Darwin’s Theory of the Genesis of Man (1912). You can see some of the film on Youtube: Griffith was involved in the production of the 1940 One Million, and all the films have some similar themes, namely conflict and sex. They don’t stop with the Raquel Welch version.

Peter Elliott is the go-to actor for non-human primates, including the titular role in 1988’s Missing Link.

One Million Years B.C. did pretty well at the box office, but it’s really just one film in a long line of cave-people movies. Both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton made their versions, likely riffing on Man’s Genesis (Keaton invents golf in 1923’s Three Ages). A few years ago I challenged my Human Origins students to look at stereotypes about Neanderthals and they found the 1962 movie Eegah, which is sort of a mashup of 60’s beach party movies and the cave-people genre. The $15,000 budget may give you a sense of the film. Don Chaffey, the director of One Million Years B.C. revisited the genre in 1971 with Creatures the World Forgot (sans Raquel Welch, but with a very similar plot and movie poster!), and the 1980s has numerous entries with Ringo Starr’s comedy Caveman (1981), a defrosted Neanderthal in Iceman (1984), Rae Dawn Chong in Quest for Fire (1981), Daryl Hannah in The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986), based on the Jean M. Auel books, and even Peter Elliott (with narration by Michael Gambon) as the last Australopithecus in Missing Link (1988).

Ringo Starr and friends in 1981’s comedy Caveman.

Ringo Starr aside, Quest for Fire and The Clan of the Cave Bear are two of the best-known cave-people movies since Welch’s One Million. What’s interesting is that Quest was a box office success and garnered some critical acclaim, while Clan was a flop. Both lack dinosaurs, so that’s good. And, both explore a lot of the same themes that come up in these movies over and over—conflict between different species of humans, sex and love, and the role of technology in becoming human. Many of the critics noted that Quest had a lot of humor, either intended or not, and that’s perhaps part of the charm as film critic Roger Ebert noted. Archaeologists and anthropologists at the time were not so kind. Philip Leiberman, writing in the American Anthropologist, delivers a strident critique of the “primitive” languages developed by author Anthony Burgess for Quest, noting that, “Burgess just doesn’t seem to know anything about phonological studies, developmental studies of the acquisition of speech by children, psychoacoustic studies of speech perception,” etc. Owen Lovejoy, writing in Archaeology magazine, describes Quest as a disaster on several fronts, noting specifically that “critical human qualities such as kinship, economics, infant care, symbolism and religion, language, technology, and so on, are simply glossed over as though they appeared magically with the Upper Palaeolithic,” though he does appreciate the lack of dinosaurs. One important point that Lovejoy makes is that the film tries to be a serious attempt to depict the distant human past and that, perhaps, our inability as anthropologists to synthesize this for the public is what is lacking. Quest didn’t benefit from scientific advisors, beyond Burgess’s work to make the primitive languages and Desmond Morris’s work on animal behavior and vocalizations.

Rae Dawn Chong as Ika in Quest for Fire.

The cinema isn’t done with the cave-people genre yet. In 2008, 10,000 BC (again with the BC!) joined the ranks as a visually stunning epic that suffers from many past sins, including some serious anachronisms. I haven’t watched 10,000 BC, but it involves cave-people, Pleistocene fauna, as well as people riding horses and traveling in ships. The movie did pretty well at the box office. Reflecting on this genre of cave-people movies makes me realize that there is a lot of interest in the distant past, but, as Owen Lovejoy noted in his review of Quest for Fire, us anthropologists and archaeologist haven’t been so good at providing a compelling narrative. In fact, a lot of the interspecies conflict in these films can really be attributed to pervasive ideas in studies of human evolution that have emphasized different species based on very slight differences in skeletal anatomy. The more we learn, we find that Neanderthals and modern humans are very similar and shared genetics when they existed in the same place. Maybe Quest for Fire got that right? Godspeed Raquel.

Compare posters for Don Chaffey’s 1971 Creatures the World Forgot with the Raquel Welch classic One Million Years B.C., also directed by Chaffey for Hammer.


Following up on my September 7, 2022 post about our family visit to Arizona and New Mexico, specifically about hikes at Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, I wanted to share another highlight: Bandolier National Monument. We learned a lot by visiting the National Park Service interpretive center and hiking through the amazing Ancestral Puebloan sites in Frijoles Canyon, including more petroglyphs, and cavates—expanded hollows in the volcanic rock that formed parts of living rooms and storage structures.

Tsankawi–an Ancestral Pueblo part of Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico.

We got up early to drive from Jemez Springs to Santa Fe, allowing for a good visit to Bandolier. As we drove through Valles Caldera—another National Park Service site with tremendous cultural significance to Walatowa, the Pueblo of Jemez—we made a note that we needed to come back to explore on foot. Impressive deposits of obsidian and volcanic tuff lined parts of the highway in this area, a testament to the volcanic activity that produced the caldera some 1.25 million years ago. Part of our reason for the earlier departure was that the parking area at Frijoles Canyon fills up early, so we wanted to make sure we got in. It was worth it, as the recent rains had many desert plants in bloom amidst the Ancestral Pueblo ruins, culturally connected to many of the modern day Pueblo communities in both New Mexico and Arizona.

The deeply inscribed trail at Tsankawi, carved and worn into the soft volcanic rock of the mesa.

The rangers at the NPS interpretive center also recommended that we visit Tsankawi, another unit of the national monument and another Ancestral Pueblo, that we would pass on our way into Santa Fe—though it’s not particularly well marked or easy to find. We are grateful for this recommendation, as the hike through this largely unreconstructed Ancestral Pueblo had some amazing features. In Tewa the name for Tsankawi means “village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti.”

Ceramic sherds and an obsidian fragment on the surface of the Ancestral Pueblo Tsankawi. The only other visitors to the Pueblo reminded us not to take anything–we bonded over this moment.

Tsankawi is situated on another volcanic mesa and requires climbing some ladders to access much of the Ancestral Pueblo. Once on the mesa, visitors find the ruins of an ancient Pueblo village, more of the cavates like those in Frijoles Canyon, petroglyphs, as well as a deeply inscribed trail that leads along the top and sides of the mesa. This feature was what really captured my attention, because it was clearly an ancient feature of the place. Following the trail, it became clear that you were literally following in the footsteps of the Ancestral Pueblo people who once lived here and whose modern descendants live nearby in places like the Pueblo of San Ildefonso.

Petroglyphs at Tsankawi.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was sherds of jet-black pottery from Tsankawi that archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewitt asked Maria and Julian Martinez to replicate for museum exhibits early in the twentieth century. Their experiments to replicate the pottery and then their own innovations launched Maria’s career as the famous potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo and the black-on-black pottery with shiny, abstract designs still sought after today. Early in Maria’s career, Peabody Institute staff member Carl Guthe worked with her to write Pueblo Pottery Making: A Study at the Village of San Ildefonso, published in 1924 by Yale University Press. This was part of Alfred Kidder’s broader Pecos Pueblo project—based out of the Peabody Institute from 1915 to 1929—and an acknowledgment of the connections between modern Pueblo communities and their ancestors. Guthe’s research also brought several of Maria and Julian’s pieces into the museum, including a marvelous platter and a rare demonstration set with examples of each stage in the manufacture of the black-on-black pottery. Several of these pieces are on loan to the Addison Gallery of American Art for an upcoming exhibit Women and Abstraction: 1741-Now.

A New Photo of Margaret Ashley Towle

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Several years ago as we organized the Peabody Institute’s extensive photographic collection, we came across a group of black-and-white prints that had not been flattened. These images relate to Warren Moorehead’s 1920’s era excavation of the Etowah mound group in Georgia. Any attempt to unroll the images would produce a tear and threatened to damage the prints. We did some research on techniques that might help these older prints relax a little, to no avail. Help was nearby, however, in the form of the Northeast Document Conservation Center or NEDCC, one of the leading paper and media conservation organizations in the country. We’ve used them before to digitize oversized maps and to scan black-and-white negatives.

The images were returned to us after conservation recently, and we also received high resolution digital versions. Most of the photos show items from the Etowah site, but one picture was of Margaret Ashley Towle, one of the pioneering female archaeologists of the southeastern United States. The image is marked on the reverse as “Etowah Ga 1928 Miss Ashley” and has our recent catalog number 2020.3.283. It is a wonderful complement to Frank Schnell Jr’s 1999 chapter “Margaret E. Ashley: Georgia’s First Professional Archaeologist,” which appeared in Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States. She was also featured, sans photo, in Irene Gates’s Women of the Peabody blog in 2018.

Image of Margaret Ashley as a smiling young woman wearing a cloche hat and light-colored trench coat with collar turned up. She has several scarves loosely around her neck. Hazy, out of focus image of Warren Moorehead in the background.
Image of Margaret Ashley at the Etowah site, 1928. In the right background is a slightly out of focus image of archaeologist Warren Moorehead. The image has been cropped to exclude several cultural items from the site. Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology 2020.3.283.

Margaret Ashley was already well-versed in archaeology and was a skilled outdoorswoman when she worked with Warren Moorehead at the Etowah site, and went on to assist with his projects in Maine and to continue her own research in the Southeast. She also contributed to Moorehead’s Etowah Papers publication and published on her technique for illustrating pottery. According to Frank Schnell’s chapter in Grit-Tempered, Ashley married Moorehead’s main field assistant Gerald Towle in 1930. Unfortunately, Ashley’s marriage coincided with a significant hiatus to her training and research. We do know that after Towle’s death, Ashley completed her Ph.D. at Columbia with her dissertation later appearing as The Ethnobotany of Pre-Columbian Peru, number 30 of the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology (1961). Colleagues working in the Andes report that Ashley’s publication remains a significant resource. Ashley spent several decades as an unpaid research associate at the Harvard Botanical Museum where she worked with botanist Paul Mangelsdorf, who had also been encouraging Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s interests in agriculture, also around this same time.

We are delighted that we have been able to recover this early photo of Margaret Ashley Towle. If you get a chance, get a copy of Grit-Tempered–the biographical entries also include Adelaide Bullen, another pioneering archaeologist with connections to the Peabody Institute!

Repatriation and the View from the Top

Contributed by Ryan J. Wheeler

At the recent 8th annual Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) Repatriation Conference I participated in the final panel. This session, called “The View from the Top,” invited directors from a number of museums, universities, and agencies to talk about what they were doing to overcome obstacles and improve their repatriation process under the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The other institutions represented were Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, the Alabama Department of Archives & History, UC Berkeley, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and the Illinois State Museum. Many of these are big university programs and still hold thousands of ancestors and funerary belongings. Since we spoke alphabetically, I went last and had a little opportunity to reflect on what others had said.

Many of the institutions had similar challenges and a variety of solutions. Several of the presenters mentioned that the law privileges museum decision-making, creating an imbalance. To counter this greater import was now given to Indigenous information, like oral history or expert opinion. Indigenous activism, often on campus, had focused attention on the need for increased engagement and compliance with NAGPRA. In California, state legislation had served this role. Most of the leaders spoke about listening and learning from Indigenous members of their campus communities and from those Tribal representatives leading repatriation efforts. One of the big topics that garnered audience interest was moratoriums on both research and acceptance of collections that might include ancestors or other cultural items subject to NAGPRA. I shared that we had not enacted moratoriums, but rather had modified our collections policies to allow for research only after consultation with culturally and geographically affiliated Tribes. And, that this applied to all of our collections, noting that it was difficult if not impossible to distinguish between NAGPRA and Not-NAGPRA collections outside of consultation with Tribes.

The Peabody also has not enacted a moratorium on accepting collections, largely because we recognize that this might be the only pathway to repatriation for some ancestors and cultural items. It was also our practice when I worked in Florida—we had laws and rules in place that allowed our state agency to accept ancestral remains for the purpose of repatriation. Steve Murray, director of the Alabama Department of Archives & History, shared in the session that they had done something similar recently. Several audience members pointed out concerns about such transfers, noting a lack of trust, and also suggested that donors be directed to Tribes. Being in touch with Tribes when these situations arise is critical, but direct transfers might not always be possible. In fact, the Peabody has had a long history of accepting collections with ancestral remains and cultural items for the purpose of repatriation. In some cases, these transfers have reunited split or shared collections, while others have supported smaller museums or historical societies that lack repatriation expertise, and others have seen ancestors and cultural items move out of private hands where they could be sold or discarded.

In reflecting on this discussion since the conference, I’ve thought a couple of things. Mainly, that what is great about NAGPRA is also what is awful. The law and rule encourage creative solutions, but in order to do that there exist small gaps or interstices where institutions can lean one way or the other. Tribal perspectives and expertise can be given greater weight in determining affiliation, or the law can be interpreted very strictly, creating situations that impede repatriation. Also, there is no “one size fits all;” what works for the Peabody is not going to work elsewhere. I think too that the current focus on moratoriums is unfortunate, though I certainly understand that response. There has been too long a time when culturally unaffiliated ancestral remains and cultural items could be subjected to destructive testing or other forms of research without Tribal consent. I worry, however, that moratoriums are not really policies and do not encourage collaboration between institutions and potentially foreclose transfers that could help speed repatriation. Maybe this comes from my time in public service in Florida, but I believe museums have a responsibility not to just focus on their own NAGPRA compliance, but to support each other for the collective good.

Petroglyph National Monument

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

This summer included a family vacation to parts of Arizona and New Mexico. That meant a drive and some short hikes in Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert, as well as time in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and points in between. Unfortunately, COVID preempted our attendance at the Santa Fe Indian Market, but we are already planning a short visit next summer!

Image of human hand petroglyphs carved on dark volcanic rock at Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico.
Petroglyphs at Piedras Marcados Canyon, part of Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Ryan Wheeler, April 12, 2019.

Petroglyph National Monument is one of the places that I was looking forward to revisiting with my family. Most of the petroglyphs here were made by Native Americans, but there are some added by the Spanish, cowboys, or other visitors. I had a chance to make a visit during the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting in 2019, but at that time I had only went to the interpretive center (no actual petroglyphs there, but a great introductory film) and one of the canyons with petroglyphs—Piedras Marcadas, literally “marked stones.” According to the National Park Service, there are about 400 petroglyphs visible at Piedras Marcadas, but that’s only one of three separate locales within the monument. What struck me most during that 2019 visit was the proximity to suburban Albuquerque. The canyon is literally in the backyard of a residential neighborhood! What we learned during our recent visit was that community activism in the 1980s had helped save the petroglyphs and create the monument in 1990—not all that long ago.

View of Albuquerque from Boca Negra Canyon, August 2022.

This summer we decided to visit Rinconada Canyon, which is only about a mile from the Petroglyph National Monument interpretive center. The park service says you can see about 300 petroglyphs at Rinconada. Despite being right off Unser Boulevard, this site doesn’t have a residential development right next door, so it feels a little bit wilder. The loop trail took us past the canyon wall, which is littered with volcanic boulders. The boulders have a desert varnish of blacks and dark browns, making a good surface for the inscribed petroglyphs that expose the lighter colored rock below the surface. One of the most interesting parts of the monument is the decision not to interpret the meanings of the glyphs, though you can learn a little about this from Native Americans interviewed in the interpretive center film. We went early enough that we didn’t get baked.

Macaw and geometric petroglyphs, Boca Negra Canyon, August 2022.

On a bit of a whim, we decided to visit Boca Negra Canyon, the third petroglyph site in the monument. While apparently only having 100 or so petroglyphs that can be viewed by visitors, this was really the most spectacular of the three locales. At Boca Negra you climb up the mesa and really have an opportunity to get close to the petroglyphs. It’s a little more up and down of a hike, but worth it for the views and the chance to see the petroglyphs close up. The geology of the area is fascinating too. The inscribed boulders are the product of a volcanic eruption around 130,000 years ago. Magma poured out of vents and fissures in the area, creating a sheet of basaltic rock over the softer Santa Fe Formation. The softer sediments on which the volcanic rocks were deposited slowly eroded away, leaving the broken boulders.

Petroglyphs at Rinconada Canyon, August 2022.

The petroglyphs at all three monument locations were made by ancestors of the modern Pueblo people, dating between 400 and 700 years ago, though some are much older. The petroglyphs have been dated based on weathering, but also variations in style and content. There are birds, insects, animals, hands, humanoids, spirals, and other geometric forms. The petroglyphs remain culturally significant to Pueblo people and other Native Americans in the region.

Gearing Up for Human Origins

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The fall 2022 term at Phillips Academy is a little less than a month away and this time every summer my thoughts turn to Human Origins. Human Origins is the interdisciplinary science elective that I have been teaching since 2016 (the course originated with Jere Hagler and Peabody Institute staff in 2007).

Hands on activities are a mainstay of Human Origins, including work with our collection of fossil human casts and models, spear throwing, ancient paint making, fire making, and stone tool making. Many of these activities explore ancient human technologies and give students a glimpse into life in the Upper Paleolithic.

Human Origins student crafting a stone tool during fall 2020.

Stone tool making—or flint knapping—requires a little preparation each summer to make certain that we have the necessary safety gear, equipment, and raw stone for the students in the fall. In fall 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic when all courses moved online, we continued to flint knap in Human Origins by sending out kits with all the needed materials. This gave students a few weeks to familiarize themselves with the tools and techniques (after watching my safety video), rather than just one class period. Pedagogically this seemed like a good shift, so I’ve kept this as part of the course.

Knapping safety gear and tools for Human Origins.

I’ve also had a few colleagues ask about how I assemble the flint knapping kits. It is possible to find ready made kits online, these often don’t have the greatest materials, and lack safety gear like gloves, goggles, and leather pads. Here’s a list of some of the items that we typically put together in a Human Origins flint knapping kit:

  • Safety goggles
  • Leather gloves or cut proof gloves
  • A six-inch leather pad (helps protect legs and grip the flint spall)
  • An antler billet as a soft hammer
  • A river cobble as a hard hammer
  • A copper topped “bopper” for percussion flaking
  • A deer antler flaker (for pressure flaking)
  • A copper tipped flaker (for pressure flaking)
  • Large spalls of dacite and Georgetown flint (I’ve found these two materials work best for students—they knap uniformly, have few irregularities or inclusions, and can be readily obtained on online)
Dacite (left) and Georgetown flint spalls are good raw materials for beginners.

A variety of YouTube videos are available that introduce the techniques, which we also discuss in class. Students are encouraged to experiment with both percussion and pressure flaking, the different tools and materials, and making tools solo or in a group. As an instructor, I consider it a success if students are able to produce flakes (and name the different parts of a flake)!

Bifacial stone tools made by Human Origins students in fall 2020.

New Acquisition: Caddo Earspools by Chase Kahwinhut Earles

We recently commissioned Chase Kahwinhut Earles to create a pair of traditional Caddo style earspools for our permanent collection. We are thrilled with the result! Chase is a talented ceramic artist who works with traditional methods and materials to create vessels and other objects. Along with traditional forms and designs, Chase’s work also includes contemporary pieces and his own exploration of Star Wars through an Indigenous lens. His work has garnered numerous awards and accolades; private collectors and museums regularly commission and acquire his work. Check out his webpage for more of his work and videos of his process:

Ceramic and copper earspools by Chase Kahwinhut Earles, photograph by Chase Kahwinhut Earles.

These earspools were made with hand-dug clay, pit fired, with an embossed copper covering, much like examples found at archaeological sites in the southeastern United States. The star motif on this pair of earspools is reminiscent of designs known from Spiro, an ancient city in eastern Oklahoma, and from neighboring areas.

We look forward to seeing these earspools used in classes, especially curator of education Lindsay Randall’s Trade Connections lesson designed for History 100. Ear ornaments, made from a variety materials and styles, are well known throughout the western hemisphere, including jade and jadeite, wood, copper, shell, obsidian, and other stones.


[NOTE: This paper was published in the special issue “Indigenous Collections: Belongings, Decolonization, Contextualization” of Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, 2022, Vol. 18(1):8-17. We’ve reproduced the pre-press version here with pagination for those who do not have access to SAGE publications. Please cite as Wheeler, Ryan, Jaime Arsenault, and Marla Taylor. “Beyond NAGPRA/Not NAGPRA.” Collections 18, no. 1 (March 2022): 8–17.


Institutions have been slow to respond to calls from Indigenous nations, organizations, and scholars to require free, prior, and informed consent before authorizing use of their cultural heritage materials in publications, exhibition, and research. In the United States, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 fundamentally changed the relationship between museums, archaeologists, and Indigenous nations, requiring institutions to inventory their collections and consult with descendant communities on repatriation of specific Indigenous collections. In response, institutions and their personnel have come to view Indigenous collections as those subject to NAGPRA and those that are not—NAGPRA/Not NAGPRA. Many Indigenous nations, however, do not accept this demarcation, resulting in continued frustration and trauma for those descendant communities. This case study follows the evolving relationship between the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. Beginning with repatriation, the relationship has expanded to consider how the museum and Indigenous nation can collaborate on the care and curation of cultural heritage materials that remain at the Peabody Institute. Most recently, White Earth and the Peabody have executed an MOU that governs how the museum will handle new acquisitions, found-in-collections materials, and donor offers. The relationship with the White Earth also has influenced how the Peabody Institute approaches its holdings of Indigenous cultural heritage materials more broadly, blurring the line between NAGPRA and Not NAGPRA collections. The Peabody Institute is working to revise its collections policy to require free, prior, and informed consent prior to use of Indigenous cultural heritage materials in publications, exhibitions, and research.



This case study is authored by Ryan Wheeler and Marla Taylor, who acknowledge that they are settlers of European descent in the unceded territories of many Indigenous nations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, USA, including the Wabanaki Confederacy and the Wampanoag nations, and Jaime Arsenault, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) for the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (White Earth). Wheeler and Taylor are employees of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology (the Peabody), an archaeology museum that is part of Phillips Academy, a college preparatory school located in Andover, Massachusetts USA. Founded in 1901, the Peabody has a lot in common with other twentieth century museums in the United States, including amassing Indigenous collections from diverse areas with little or no consent from descendant communities. The Peabody currently holds nearly 600,000 objects of Indigenous material culture, primarily from the Arctic and Canada; the northeastern, southeastern, and southwestern United States, and Mexico and Peru, as well as photographs and archival materials.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed as federal law in 1990 and required that museums and federal agencies inventory their holdings for ancestral remains and funerary belongings, provide these inventories to descendant Indigenous communities, and consult with those communities on cultural affiliation and repatriation. NAGPRA has elements of property law and civil rights legislation, providing an opportunity for Indigenous nations to reclaim stolen ancestors and funerary belongings. NAGPRA fundamentally changed the relationship between Indigenous nations, archaeologists, and museums, creating an environment where representatives of each group were in regular contact with one another. Often this contact led to other programs and collaborations beyond NAGPRA. For examples, Nash (2021; also see Moore 2010) has recently revisited the concept of “propatriation,” collaborative undertakings that go beyond the legal requirements of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) or moral imperatives to return Indigenous cultural heritage to groups outside the United States. NAGPRA compliance, however, has been slowed by a variety of factors, including institutional reliance on archaeological and biological lines of evidence, even in the face of compelling oral history evidence or expert opinion supplied by Indigenous nations. At the time of this writing, over 100,000 ancestors remain in museum collections with little or no path to repatriation (Nash and Colwell 2020).


Between 2013 and 2015, the Peabody developed a strategic plan that built on an earlier commitment to NAGPRA, prioritizing decolonial principles in all aspects of museum operations (Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology 2015). With decolonization as a guiding principle, the plan acknowledged the harm caused by archaeological excavations and sought to shift the balance of power, giving Indigenous nations a greater voice in how their material culture is handled and interpreted. We argue that museums and institutions holding Indigenous cultural heritage must go beyond collaborative programming to instill change at the policy and procedure level. Work on NAGPRA compliance provides an opportunity to develop and implement those policy changes.

The Peabody Institute and the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe have collaborated to blur what we have been calling the NAGPRA/Not NAGPRA dichotomy. Though we have encountered other museums in the United States where staff are interested in instituting such changes, informal conversations have found few examples where official policies governing how Indigenous collections are accessed for exhibit, research, photography, or other purposes specifically require the free, prior, and informed consent of descendant communities. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007. Part 2 of Article 11 specifically states:

States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs (UN General Assembly 2007).

Article 12 deals with the rights of Indigenous people to seek repatriation of ancestors and ceremonial objects. Revision of the Peabody’s collection policy specifically aligns with Articles 11 and 12 of UNDRIP, both in the way that NAGPRA is implemented, but also in going beyond NAGPRA compliance to insure the rights of Indigenous people regarding their tangible and intangible cultural heritage.


Co-authors Wheeler and Taylor, in their respective roles as director and curator of col- lections at the Peabody Institute, began using the phrase NAGPRA/Not NAGPRA sometime in the last few years to describe their own approach to Indigenous heritage collections. This articulation of our own institution’s approach to repatriation occurred in 2017 to 2018 when we first began to draft a broad repatriation policy, based on our existing practice. Consultation with Indigenous nations, especially White Earth, as well as the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, the Wabanaki Repatriation Confederacy of


Figure 1. Tara Mason, beadwork artist and member, White Earth Band, examines Anishnaabe clothing at the Peabody Institute as co-authors Marla Taylor and Ryan Wheeler look on during a consultation visit, January 2017.

Maine, Pueblos in the American Southwest, as well as engagement with other repatriation practitioners in the NAGPRA Community of Practice began to erode our commitment to this approach (Figure 1). Taylor concisely stated that she believed that many institutions, in response to the passage of NAGPRA, began to distinguish those collections that they felt were subject to NAGPRA from those that were not. By firmly drawing boundaries between NAGPRA and Not NAGPRA collections, institutions preserve pre-NAGPRA decision-making structures regarding how they can access and use Indigenous cultural heritage. This discernment, whether intentional or not, reflects the imbalance inherent in a law that sought to balance the interests of museums with the rights of Indigenous nations to reclaim their stolen ancestors and make decisions regarding other tangible and intangible cultural heritage, including images, archives, and songs. If there is any doubt about this, responses from museums and archaeologists to the Department of Interior’s proposed changes to the NAGPRA rules support our assertion (see Seidemann 2008).

Blurring the Lines

While uncommon, there are some excellent examples where organizations and institutions have blurred the lines between NAGPRA and Not NAGPRA collections. The First Archivists Circle (2007) developed and shared The Protocols for Native American


Archival Materials. Like NAGPRA, consultation with descendant communities is at the core of The Protocols. The Protocols stress that consultation and shared decision making about archival collections are in line with accepted ethical archive practices. Between 2016 and 2018, the Peabody Institute incorporated many of the principles and practices advocated for in The Protocols. For example, we agreed that digitizing paper and photographic records was inappropriate without consultation and explicit approval from Indigenous nations, especially as many of the museum records dealt with excavations of ancestral remains. It was not until more recently that we formally incorporated these practices into our collections policies and procedures. It is unclear, however, how many institutions have formally implemented the recommendations within The Protocols, though there are good examples and case studies at the website of the Society of American Archivists (2021a, 2021b).

The University of Maine (2018, Orono) executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Penobscot Nation. The MOU formalizes principles and practices regarding how the university manages and shares Penobscot cultural heritage at the Hudson Museum, the Fogler Library, the University of Maine Press, and the Anthropology Department. University of Maine history faculty member Darren Ranco and Jane Anderson of New York University developed the University of Maine MOU. Anderson’s work on attribution, Indigenous archives, intellectual property, and Traditional Knowledge labels is critically important and informs the case study presented here (Anderson 2018; Christen and Anderson 2019).

Case Study

White Earth is one of seven Anishinaabe reservations in Minnesota, created in 1867 by a treaty between the United States and the Mississippi Band of Chippewa Indians. Unlike many lands set aside for Indigenous nations in the United States, the White Earth Reservation had abundant natural resources, including timber. Meyer (1994), a historian of mixed Irish, German and Eastern Cherokee heritage, published The White Earth Tragedy, telling the story of how unscrupulous companies and individuals defrauded the Anishinaabe people of their property, land, and natural resources (Bloch et al. 2008). The dispossession of the White Earth Anishinaabe also set in motion the loss of significant material culture, as anthropologists and collectors forced Indigenous nation members to sell or gift items they possessed.

Robert S. Peabody and Warren K. Moorehead founded the Peabody Institute in 1901, originally called the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology, at Robert’s high school alma mater. The museum became involved in the major undertakings of twentieth century archaeology, including sponsorship of Alfred V. Kidder’s 1915– 1929 excavations of Pecos Pueblo, investigations across the Northeast and Southeast, with personnel holding leadership roles in major anthropological and archaeological


organizations. Curator Warren K. Moorehead was also involved with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Fritz 1985). Through his association with the BIA, he investigated the fraud being committed against the Anishinaabe people at White Earth. While at White Earth Moorehead obtained a number of cultural heritage materials, ranging from photographs to sacred items to elements of Anishinaabe clothing (Bacon 2009; Moorehead 1914).

Personnel at the Peabody Institute embraced repatriation after the passage of NAGPRA in 1990, perhaps largely due to the commitment and vision of Leah Rosenmeier, who served in a variety of roles at the museum from 1993 to 2002 (Bradley 2018). Starting in 2013, the leadership of the Peabody Institute recognized the importance of repatriation work conducted under NAGPRA and the need for broader theoretical underpinnings that could inform all collections and educational endeavors (see Lonetree 2012). As part of their strategic planning process, Wheeler invited Arsenault to present to the institute’s advisory committee, following an earlier meeting in 2011. Coincidentally, Arsenault was assisting in the development of the White Earth’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) repatriation program, and was actively searching for Indigenous cultural heritage that had originated at White Earth.

Warren K. Moorehead’s activities at White Earth in 1909 had led to the accession of a number of items, including glass plate photographs of his investigation, Anishanaabe clothing and bandolier bags, as well as pipes, a war flag, and birch bark scroll meeting the definition of cultural patrimony and sacred objects under the NAGPRA law and rules. Arsenault and other White Earth representatives aided in the repatriation of some of these Indigenous collections, and provided informal guidance on the care of the remaining materials (National Park Service 2016, 2017). For example, White Earth representatives asked that the museum not share the photographic images made by Moorehead without permission from the THPO.

Arsenault, serving as the White Earth’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, pro- posed in 2020 that the Peabody Institute enter into a more formal agreement regarding future acquisitions of Indigenous cultural heritage originating from the Indigenous nation. The agreement would cover offers of donations or sale made to the museum, or purchases of contemporary artwork from Indigenous nation members. Arsenault collaborated with Jane Anderson of NYU and provided a draft agreement document, and Wheeler, Taylor, and the Phillips Academy legal counsel made revisions and updates. A copy of the final document—ultimately called Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Historic Preservation Office and the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology—is available from the authors or the Peabody Institute. Major elements include:

  • The MOU addresses all tangible and intangible materials (photographs, field- recordings, maps, archaeological collections, films, field-notes, legal papers,


artwork, biographical material, and like materials) that relate or may relate to White Earth. There are provisions for the tribe to aid the institution in making cultural identifications if the materials cannot be sourced to White Earth specifically.

  • The MOU specifies that it is part of Peabody Institute efforts to adhere to CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance (Global Indigenous Data Alliance 2019). Among other things, the CARE Principles recognize that current efforts to digitize and widely share scientific data often fail to involve descendant com- munities in these decisions.
  • There is a focus on communication between the Peabody Institute and White Earth, especially in cases where there are potential purchases or donations of cultural materials that originated from White Earth. This includes contemporary artwork, so that the White Earth THPO can track all White Earth cultural heritage. There are provisions for regular contact and exchange of information between the tribe and museum, and revisions to the MOU as needed.
  • The MOU specifies that the Peabody Institute will encourage potential donors and sellers to work directly with White Earth to transfer tangible and intangible cultural heritage materials to the tribe as the descendant community.
  • White Earth is the primary cultural authority over their cultural heritage materials in perpetuity. This includes provisions that the White Earth THPO must approve all requests to publish, research, disseminate, image, or exhibit said cultural heritage materials before the museum grants permission to the requestor.
  • The Peabody Institute and White Earth will collaborate to develop Traditional Knowledge (TK) labels for White Earth heritage materials held by the institution, formalizing some of the practices already in place (Local Contexts 2019).


Work with your institutional leadership to revise collections policies and procedures to center Indigenous voices. This should include policies that govern loans, exhibits, and research, updated to require descendant community approvals. At the Peabody Institute we have revised the documents that relate to loans and researcher access, making it clear that descendant communities must be involved at all stages of a project and that those communities must approve how Indigenous cultural heritage is used or exhibited.

Add Indigenous members to your museum leadership board or committee, and col- lections subcommittees. Members with particular geographic or cultural affiliation with collections that you hold will bring invaluable expertise.

If your institution is working on NAGPRA compliance or repatriation in general, consider having conversations with consulting tribes about MOUs that would vest


cultural authority and decision making on collections with those descendant communities.

Develop and implement a Care-and-Trust Agreement with the descendant communities represented in the collection to dictate the care, access, handling, and housing of collections while in the physical control of the institution. An agreement like this should apply to all relevant material within the collection regardless of repatriation status. Update webpages to indicate that your institution is open to collaboration with Indigenous communities, especially if the collections you hold are geographically and culturally diverse.

Educate staff and board members to help build a broad base of support for your efforts. This can include readings and coursework, as well as informal conversations about decolonizing work at all levels of the institution.


We thank Rose Buchanan for her help in understanding ongoing work to implement the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.


Anderson, Jane. 2018. “Negotiating Who Owns Penobscot Culture.” Anthropology Quarterly 91 (1): 265–302.

Bacon, Anabel. 2009. “Warren King Moorehead: The Peabody’s First Curator, a Champion of Native American Rights.” Andover Bulletin 102 (2): 22–3.

Bloch, Ruth, Valerie Matsumoto, Kathryn Norberg, Janice Reiff, and Mary Yeager. 2008. “In Memoriam: Melissa L. Meyer.” Accessed October 12, 2021. https://senate.universityof

Bradley, James. 2018. “Negotiating NAGPRA: Rediscovering the Human Side of Science.” In Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, edited by Malinda Stafford Blustain and Ryan Wheeler, 159–72. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


Christen, Kimberly, and Anderson, Jane. 2019. “Toward Slow Archives.” Archival Science 19 (2): 87–116.

First Archivists Circle. 2007. Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. Accessed July 1, 2021.

Fritz, Henry, E. 1985. “The Last Hurrah of Christian Humanitarian Indian Reform: The Board of Indian Commissioners, 1909-1918.” Western Historical Quarterly 16 (2): 147–62.

Global Indigenous Data Alliance. 2019. “CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance.” Accessed July 1, 2021.

Local Contexts. 2019. “Traditional Knowledge Labels.” Accessed July 1, 2021. https://localcontexts. org/labels/traditional-knowledge-labels/.

Lonetree, Amy. 2012. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Meyer, Melissa, L. 1994. The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889–1920. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Moore, Emily. 2010. “Propatriation: Possibilities for Art after NAGPRA.” Museum Anthropology 33 (2): 125–36.

Moorehead, Warren, K. 1914. The American Indian in the United States: 1850-1914. Andover: Andover Press.

Nash, Stephen E. 2021. “How Museums Can Do More Than Just Repatriate Objects.” Accessed July 1, 2021.

Nash, Stephen, E., and Chip Colwell. 2020. “NAGPRA at 30: The Effects of Repatriation.” Annual Review of Anthropology 49: 225–39.

National Park Service. 2016. “Notice of Intent to Repatriate Cultural Items: Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, Andover, MA.” Accessed July 1, 2021. https://www.federalregister. gov/documents/2016/04/29/2016-10070/notice-of-intent-to-repatriate-cultural-items-robert-s- peabody-museum-of-archaeology-andover-ma.

National Park Service. 2017. “Notice of Intent to Repatriate Cultural Items: Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA.” Accessed July 1, 2021. repatriate-cultural-items-robert-s-peabody-museum-of-archaeology-phillips.

Robert, S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. 2015. “Strategic Plan, 2015–2020, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.” Accessed October 12, 2021. files/PeabodyPlan2015_2020.pdf.

Seidemann, Ryan. 2008. “Altered Meanings: The Department of the Interior’s Rewriting of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to Regulate Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains.” Accessed July 1, 2021. https://www.academia. edu/30027274/Altered_Meanings_The_Department_of_the_Interior_s_Rewriting_of_the_ Native_American_Graves_Protection_and_Repatriation_Act_to_Regulate_Culturally_ Unidentifiable_Human_Remains.

Society of American Archivists. 2021a. “Protocols for Native American Archival Materials: Information and Resources Page.” Accessed July 1, 2021. groups/native-american-archives-section/protocols-for-native-american-archival-materi- als-information-and-resources-page.


Society of American Archivists. 2021b. “Access Policies for Native American Archival Materials- Case Studies.” Accessed July 1, 2021. Native-American-Archival-Materials-Case-Studies.

UN General Assembly. 2007. “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295.” Accessed October 12, 2021.

University of Maine. 2018. “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Penobscot Nation and the University of Maine System, University of Maine (Orono).” Accessed July 1, 2021. Penobscot-Nation-UMaine-MOU.pdf.

Author Biographies

Ryan Wheeler is the director of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, a museum at Phillips Academy, Andover MA. At the Peabody, he has advanced a strategic vision focused on collections, education, and repatriation. In 2017, Ryan co-founded the Journal of Archaeology & Education, the only academic journal devoted to the intersection of these two fields. Ryan lives with his family in Medford, MA.

Jaime Arsenault is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO), Repatriation Representative, and Archives Manager for the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Ms. Arsenault has worked with Indigenous communities for over twenty years. Currently, she is a member of the Minnesota Historical Society Indian Advisory Committee and the Repatriation Working Group with the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) and a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History Repatriation Review Committee. She is a Community Intellectual Property Advisory Board Member for the Penobscot Nation and sits on both the Advisory Committee and the Collections Committee of the Peabody Institute of Archaeology. Ms. Arsenault also serves as a MuseDI Partner on decolonization practice for the Abbe Museum.

Marla Taylor is the curator of collections at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. She has worked in all facets of collections management from cataloging to conservation to repatriation. Marla currently splits her time between leading an effort to conduct a full inventory of the collection and facilitating access to the Peabody’s collection for Indigenous nation partners, researchers, and educators.

NAGPRA, Repatriation, and Relearning History

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

This blog is an email response to a follow-up question from a journalist writing a piece about Seminole Tribe of Florida efforts to get the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History to repatriate ancestors being held there. A little context is necessary. Last year the Peabody Institute repatriated ancestors from Florida to the Seminole. We continue to work with them on repatriation of other ancestors from neighboring states. That repatriation included decisions about affiliation, a key concept in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The tribe referred the reporter to me for some background on the broader questions of affiliation and the question of Seminole ancestors at the Smithsonian. After I had a conversation with the reporter, they had a talk with the Smithsonian’s repatriation personnel. Here’s the question that prompted my response, “I spoke with _____ at the Smithsonian about repatriation, and he says one reason he’s not turning over many of the remains held by his museum is that the Seminoles came to Florida in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since many of his remains are older than that, he doesn’t consider them Seminoles. Of course, the Seminoles disagree and say they are still their ancestors. I’m wondering how you made the determination that the remains you had could be returned to the Seminoles.”

Many thanks for sharing that question. I read your message yesterday afternoon and experienced a welling up of sadness at the thought that so many ancestors held by the Smithsonian really have no pathway to repatriation. I thought about this all night, on and off, thinking about my own rather longer than necessary journey to understanding, and feeling sadness for the ancestors and their modern-day descendants, and sympathy towards my archaeological colleagues who are struggling with this.

I have a couple of things to share that I hope will be helpful—the first are academic sources that helped in making our affiliation decision, while the second are more personal experiences. Reading this over, they are really all personal experiences.

A good place to start is Patricia Wickman’s 1999 book The Tree that Bends: Discourse, Power, and the Survival of the Maskoki People (University of Alabama Press). Wickman tackles this idea that somehow the modern Seminole and Miccosukee are disconnected from more ancient Indigenous people of Florida. She makes the case that this is an intentional white-washing of history, much like the Mound Builder Myth of the Ohio Valley, which was used by nineteenth century Americans to justify a push west and a land grab. In other words, if these Indigenous people have no real deep connections to the land, moving them out is perfectly justified. The book was controversial when it came out, because it went up against what we had all learned in school—and when I say school, I mean from elementary through graduate school. And archaeology and ancestors are a big part of this—those cemeteries, burials, and physical remains of the ancestors are tangible proof of long tenure on the land. Eugene Lyon, who has a blurb on the back cover and is mentioned in the acknowledgments of The Tree that Bends, was a history professor at Flagler College, he also was a peer reviewer of the book. I called him after I read it and we talked for a long time. Gene shared that maybe there were other histories that we needed to look for, what we might call hidden histories, and that this probably was one of them. That book, with whatever faults it may have, and my ensuing conversation with Gene really was a major bubble in my own understandings of Florida history and who the Seminole were and are. Gene passed in 2020, a victim of COVID-19—he was 91.

I would point to a couple of other academic things that I had already known about when Patricia’s book came out. In 1956 Frances Densmore, an ethnomusicologist affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, published a monograph Seminole Music (Bulletin 161 in the Bureau of American Ethnology series). I found a copy of this in a used bookstore while I was in grad school at the University of Florida in the early ‘90s. What caught my attention was that she had recorded several songs that the Seminole attributed to the Calusa—one of those ancient Florida Indigenous groups that was centered in southwestern Florida. That means they knew about these people and had some close contact.

That Densmore monograph made me revisit William C. Sturtevant’s 1953 article Chakaika and the “Spanish Indians,” which was published in the magazine Tequesta. Sturtevant was an anthropologist at the Smithsonian. In the Chakaika article he tackles this question of connection between the Seminole and earlier peoples, based on oral history with Indigenous people and history as written by Anglo-Americans. It’s long and complicated, and not particularly conclusive, but it would appear that even in the early nineteenth century there were a number of Indigenous groups in Florida, including the Seminole and Miccosukee, as well as Choctaw, people of mixed Spanish and Indigenous ancestry, and Calusa. He doesn’t come to any definite conclusions, but all these people were around, and around a lot later than the conventional wisdom would have us believe. They knew about one another, and it’s pretty clear they adopted some cultural practices, like those songs Densmore recorded.

So, those are some academic books and articles that tackle this question of Seminole origins and identity that diverge, either a little or a lot, from the accepted wisdom. Now, onto some more personal observations. I knew a fair number of Seminole folx growing up, and the oral history accounts shared by Sturtevant rang pretty true, but were perhaps a little more vehement in the ‘80s: basically, we’ve been here a long time, we have deep roots and connections with the land, and anything else is nonsense. Hmmm, okay. I went to college with James Jumper. Jimmy was in his late 40s and I was in my late teens/early twenties. He had come to Florida Atlantic University to study criminal justice and went on to get a law degree and worked for the tribe. He lived in the dorm next to mine, but we often compared notes on our classes and I had taken some criminology classes too. We sometimes ordered a pizza or cooked in the dorm kitchen or on the grill outside. We sat around and chit chatted. I told him about the history and archaeology that I was taking. He was kind and patient, but challenged what I told him about Seminole origins. No, we’ve been here a long time, he told me. First bubble.

Archaeologists Christine Newman and Ray McGee excavate ancient dugout canoes at Lake Pithlachocco in 2000.

In 2000 Lake Pithlachocco (aka Newnans Lake—named after Daniel Newnan who led an illegal early nineteenth century invasion of Florida to wage war against the Spanish and Indigenous inhabitants) near Gainesville, FL dried up. I was an archaeologist with the Florida Division of Historical Resources at the time and we started getting calls about dugout canoes being found. We follow up and there were hundreds of canoes. We conducted a project and documented about 50, including many from 4,000 to 5,000 years old. These were all really old canoes! We published an article in 2003 in American Antiquity called Archaic Period Canoes from Newnans Lake, Florida. What struck me was the Seminole and Miccosukee response when some of the canoes were damaged by a man who was permitted by the state to remove old logs (deadhead logs) from the lake. You can look up the newspaper accounts. Without going into a lot of detail, the response was akin to that when human burial sites were disturbed. Oh, the original, Indigenous name of the lake—Pithlachocco—that means something like “boat house” or “place of boats” in the Creek language spoken by the Seminole. So, we have these supposed recent immigrants in the people that become the Seminole and Miccosukee acknowledging an ancient site. Is this a coincidence? Another bubble.

One of my jobs when I worked for the Division of Historical Resources was following up on reports of unmarked human burials, a responsibility of our office under state statute 872.05. This work, which I ultimately wrote an article about (September 2013, The Florida AnthropologistFlorida’s Unmarked Human Burial Law: A Retrospective, 1987-2010) put me in pretty regular contact with representatives of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes. I learned a lot from this experience, especially from Fred Dayhoff, who was the NAGPRA representative for the Miccosukee. Fred was not a member of the tribe, but he had a long relationship with them, and dealt with the complicated issues of archaeology and ancestors and burials. I would let him know about discoveries and disturbances, he would consult with the tribal leadership and elders, then work with me on implementing some solution. As you will see, if you get a chance to read my 2013 article, the focus was on preservation in place and reburial. And long conversations with Fred, as well as the representatives from the Seminole tribe, made me again question what I had learned in school. There were connections between the Seminole, Miccosukee, and the ancient tribes, what NAGPRA refers to as affiliation. More bubbles.

Probably the last bubble came in 2009 or 2010 when we started to have meetings with the Seminole tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), helmed at that time by Paul Backhouse (you can read the book they wrote in 2017 called We Come for Good: Archaeology and Tribal Historic Preservation at the Seminole Tribe of Florida). I don’t remember what prompted the meetings, perhaps it was just the formation of the THPO office and some work to partner and collaborate more (I was Florida’s state archaeologist at that time). One of the meetings, at their offices there at Big Cypress, next to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, included some conversations with several of their cultural advisors. These were tribal members who were traditionalists, with deep knowledge of cultural practices, that served to advise the employees of the THPO. They explained, patiently, yet firmly, about the Seminole beliefs not just about ancestors, but about all archaeological sites. Even the most mundane and quotidian sites—little campsites with pottery fragments and animal bones from meals. These were the places where the ancestors had lived, where they had cooked, where they had raised their families. I was blown away. I had never made these connections. And, it was full circle—it was all about land and connections to place. The final bubbles. I realized that what I had learned in school, from my beloved teachers and professors, was just flat out wrong. And not just wrong, but harmful and hurtful to Indigenous people because it perpetuated the idea that somehow these Indigenous people were newcomers. Think about that—how crazy is that? We literally have a story that places Indigenous people as the newcomers after Anglo-Americans!

The author’s family home in Broward County, Florida, August 2021.

Last week I sold my family’s home in Florida—where my parents had lived since 1969 and where they had raised me. It was incredibly difficult to say goodbye to that place, and I expect it will remain challenging for a while. So many memories, so many connections. This is what those Seminole cultural advisors were sharing with me in 2009 or 2010. But not just fifty years of connections, millennia of connections. Generations upon generations of people all doing those human things that we all do.

In reflecting on all of this, I think a couple of things. One, I’m embarrassed that it has taken me so long to connect the dots, to see those bubbles breaking through the surface of what I had learned, and understanding that I needed to relearn history. I’ve been holding the threads of this history in my hand for a long time and I still don’t understand why it’s taken me so long to put it all together. What I learned was wrong. Maybe because our institutions, especially our educational institutions are powerful, and maybe too, because we respect and love our teachers. How could they be so wrong? Two, all of the Indigenous people, both in Florida and elsewhere, have been so patient with me. I’m not sure I deserve it, but they were and continue to be nothing but patient. They have always been there ready to help those bubbles break through the surface. I am so grateful for that patience and kindness. Three, in putting this in the context of NAGPRA and repatriation, the legal bar for affiliation is pretty low. The law requires a preponderance of the evidence, and that means slightly more than fifty percent. Looking back at the literature, oral history, and my own experiences, that requirement is met and exceeded. I don’t know the Smithsonian’s repatriation law (the Museum Act) like I do NAGPRA. Perhaps there are different requirements? But, both laws are about repatriation. These aren’t museum laws that help museum workers figure out how to hold onto ancestors and collections, they create processes for facilitating repatriation. That’s the intent, the goal. Four, I feel for my colleagues who haven’t figured all of this out yet. My message to them is, it’s not too late. Listen to people, listen to the tribes. Relearning history is hard, but it’s healing. Returning the ancestors doesn’t just heal Indigenous people and communities. This is trauma we all share, especially those of us who are archaeologists and historians, and we all need that healing. I hope this is helpful. I’m glad I had a chance to write this down. I’ve been wanting to write it down for a long time, but its hard.

As a coda to this message, I would note that things are changing. All of our institutions, from the Smithsonian down to our little museum in Andover, are colonial enterprises. There is no escaping that. And, many personnel at these institutions are stuck, because of policies and practices put in place by others, because of political pressures, whatever, to not support repatriation. While we are still part of the colonial machine, it is possible to change—some of this is generational. Younger people “get it.” The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) did a survey a few years ago and it demonstrated just this—and, the whole field has flipped. In the ‘80s when NAGPRA and the Museum Act were being debated, SAA and the American Alliance of Museums (the big museum organization) were oppositional, with a small minority of archaeologists and museum professionals recognizing that repatriation was a pathway to addressing some of the harm done by archaeology and museums. That is reversed now, largely on generational lines. As older professionals retire and leave the field, they are being replaced by younger people with new ideas who are learning all of the histories.

The organizations are changing as well. The January/February 2020 issue of Museum magazine, published by the AAM, was dedicated entirely to decolonizing, highlighting work done by museums, tribes, and Indigenous scholars and curators to change the relationships between museums and tribes. In July 2021, the SAA issued a draft statement on acknowledgment of the harm caused by archaeological practice. SAA members were asked for input on the statement, which followed the SAA’s adoption of a revised statement on the ethical treatment of human remains. This was the first time SAA had revisited this issue for more that 30 years–the previous statement on repatriation dated from the 1980s, prior to the passage of NAGPRA and the Museum Act. Just a few days ago, the Southeastern Archaeological Conference (SEAC) issued a statement supporting NAGPRA, including the following:

The Executive Committee of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference (SEAC) acknowledges the centrality of research on Indigenous cultures to the founding and perpetuation of our organization and discipline. Aspects of this history, in particular the treatment of ancestral human remains, have caused harm. We acknowledge this problematic history and seek to move forward in mutually respectful and productive partnerships with tribal nations. 

It’s our job as museum professionals, as archaeologists, as scholars, as educators, to not only educate ourselves, but to make sure students are learning the history and are given the tools to critically examine what they are being told.

JAE’s Institutional Review Board Policy

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

In August 2021, the Journal of Archaeology & Education’s editorial board met via Zoom to consider a policy regarding Institutional Review Board or IRB approvals for research published in the journal. The IRB originated with the passage of the National Research Act in 1974 after a series of congressional hearings on human-subjects research, but can trace its origins to research that lacked informed consent, like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which began in the 1930s.

The JAE board agreed that since studies involving assessment and other types of educational research would normally require at least a minimal review, we needed to have an explicit statement that alerted author’s to the need for IRB approvals prior to executing their studies. Shortly after the meeting the JAE policy website was amended to include the following guidance:

All human subjects research results published by the Journal of Archaeology and Education (JAE) must be approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) or an equivalent entity in the author’s country. The purpose of IRB review is to assure, both in advance and by periodic review, that appropriate steps are taken to protect the rights and welfare of people participating as subjects in your research. If you do not have an IRB affiliated with your organization, you must find a suitable IRB at a qualified university or other institution. Most universities have IRBs that will accept applications from outside their institution. Authors, especially those without an academic affiliation, could use an independent IRB, which is subject to the same federal regulations as universities. There may be fees associated with university and independent IRB reviews. The IRB protocol number assigned by your IRB must be included in the article. Manuscripts without IRB approval will not be considered for publication in JAE.

IRB policies at journals in medicine, psychology, and other fields that rely heavily on human-subjects research are usually brief. We felt, however, that the JAE policy needed to provide extra guidance as archaeologists expand their research to encompass educational studies on the effectiveness of teaching, assessment, work with students, and more. If you have questions about the JAE policy or how it might apply to your research, please contact the editors Jeanne Moe or Ryan Wheeler.