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The Reburial Controversy:

a general overview and exploration of a method for resolution of the ethical dilemma

by Eric Pettifor
Good friend, for Jesus sake forebear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones
And curst be he that moves my bones.

William Shakespeare
(epitaph on his grave marker)
(Riverside Shakespeare, 1974)

It is easy on first consideration of the reburial controversy to see a double standard in play, where European graves are sacred, and Indian graves are not, but as was clear to William Shakespeare, Europeans have long had a penchant for moving bones about when it has suited them (as well consider the grave digger in Hamlet who tosses up Yorick's skull while digging Ophelia's grave - in a couple of decades it will be Ophelia's skull that makes an airborne reappearance to make way for someone else).

The sacredness of European graves is provisional and of limited time duration, typically the lifetime of the immediate descendants of the deceased, providing they are concerned for the preservation of the grave. Sometimes even if they are concerned it is of no consequence if they are in the lower socioeconomic class and do not have the resources to assert their interest. There are many factors that come into play which will not be discussed here (see McGuirre, 1989), but sufficeth to say, the grave which is least likely to be disturbed is the one from the wealthy family with the huge tombstone and the conspicuousness of prestige (or else the grave of a cultural treasure like William Shakespeare, especially if there is an explicit curse attached!) "The sanctity of the grave is regarded as being primarily a concern of the family and the cemetery, and only secondarily as a community matter." (McGuirre, 1989)

If the grave is ancient, descendants of the deceased themselves long buried, the original community lost even to memory, then it is fair to dig it. McGuirre notes that those of European descent "accept without question the routine excavation and curation of Indian graves which they equate with the ancient graves regardless of the age of the Indian burials." (McGuirre, 1989, emphasis mine).

In Western thought, primitive is a temporal concept that creates otherness by relegating people to an ancient time, regardless of their true historical context (Fabian, quoted in McGuirre, 1989).

This tendency to regard Indians as primitive, an ancient race, and so on, is the legacy of the 19th century idea that the Indian was a dying race. To the perception of archaeologists are graverobbers we may add archaeologists as undertakers putting to rest the Indian people - "It is clear that the Indian with his inability to preserve his own culture or to assimilate ours, is bound to disappear as a race indeed if he has not already found his way into the pious hands of museum archaeologists." (Barbeau, 1923, quoted in Doxtator, 1988) By asserting their rights over reburial of remains claimed to be those of their ancestors Indians are effectively making their presence known and in a sense are saying 'We have been, we are, and we will continue to be, and you must respect us as we define ourselves.'

Yet it would be a mistake to characterize Indian demands for reburial as being entirely a political strategy. Clearly it can be and is used to these ends, but even from this perspective we have to ask what it is that they are fighting for. Only a committed cynic could maintain it is entirely an exploitation of 'white guilt' in order to gain commercial property and profit. At the root is a concern for cultural identity, continuity, and survival. A significant part of Indian culture is in its spirituality. Indians did not suffer a split as Western society did at the beginning of the 17th century between science and religion. Just as prior to this time in the West religion was in a real sense a science, a world view which explained "Life, the Universe, and Everything" (Adams, 1982), and Indian spirituality also serves this function, including knowledge of prehistory - "[Archaeologists] understand the past - but we know the past" (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989).

Spirituality is not divorced from ecology in this belief system, they are part of the same thing, and this is of direct relevance to burials.

He [the dead] has done his work in this world and he is going to another world to go back to the mother earth where we all came from . . . if he is disturbed he is out there, wandering, his spirit is not fully with the mother earth . . . (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989).

. . . [no] digging up the liver of mother earth, the veins, the rivers of mother earth . . . the natural world is what we would like to preserve for our future generations, we would like them to see what we see today, where they can enjoy seeing their brothers, their clan relatives, the eagles, the crows, the buzzards, the rattlesnakes and those animals, those human beings - the sonora fruit cactus - the various cacti and trees who through the burials have grown up into trees and into cactus, and they are with us too in that form, and we want our relations to be with us in whatever form they are. (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989).

Violating the principles of this spiritual ecology can lead to dire consequences.

We want to get rid of the sicknesses, we want to get rid of the unhappy land . . . that is the result of digging up and leaving empty the homes of the ancestors. From the empty homes, that is where the sickness comes . . . the unhappiness; that is how our children are killed, that is how we lose them, because we have disturbed and desecrated those areas where we had our ancestors' homes. (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989).

When the ferry terminal was being built at Twassen, British Columbia, the province wanted a small amount of the band territory for a road. The band agreed, provided the province build an access road to their marina. The province agreed, but noted that the road they wanted would be through a sacred site. The site was excavated and arrangements made with Simon Fraser University for the study of burial remains for a period of one year, after which they would be returned to the band. Six months later the band urgently requested the immediate return of the remains. During that time there had been a run of what would be regarded from a Western perspective as 'bad luck'. There were several deaths and a band member had absconded with all of the band money. The Twassen tribe attributed this misfortune to the removal of the bones (Hobler, 1995).

The consequences of violation of these principles are not necessarily limited to Indians. "Many traditional people believe that the continuing desecration threatens the spiritual balance and harmony of the entire world..." (Hammil and Cruz, 1989)

Bones should become dust. Mother earth lacks these bodies; if they are not returned there will be earthquakes and mother earth will take all these people. (Arizona Inter Tribal Council, in Hubert, 1989)

Given that the concerns of Indians are very real, even if we don't share their belief system, why not simply cede their demands? The bones are those of their ancestors, after all. Shouldn't they be the ones to say how they are treated?

The loss to archaeology of a source of data of such major importance would be devastating. Study of burials can yield data as to disease patterns, diet, changes in population, demographics, culture, environment, and society (Hubert, 1989). Arguments for social stratification are often based upon variance in grave goods. The principles involved in Indian demands for reburial would prohibit of digging graves at all, and grave goods would also fall into the category of the sacred (do not touch).

Reburial of the source of data used in archaeological interpretations would make it exceedingly difficult for future archaeologists to confirm or disconfirm those interpretations through recourse to the source of the data. Concerning the historic period one of the blessings archeology has bestowed is the ability to lend support or call into question historical accounts. Without recourse to the original data source, archaeological interpretations would become in time no better than the documents of the historians themselves, and any claims of archeology to being a science, hard or soft, would be seriously called into question.

Clement W. Meighan worries that these restriction will lead to a loss in the vitality of American archaeology in general.

An entire field of academic study may be put out of business. . . . archaeology students are now steered away from digs where they might actually find some American Indian remains. American archaeology is an expiring subject of study ~ one in which new students no longer choose to specialize. Instead, they specialize in the archaeology of other countries, where they will be allowed to conduct their research and have some assurance that their collections will be preserved. (1994)

. . . When scholarly classes in United States archaeology and ethnology are no longer taught in academic departments (they are diminishing rapidly), when the existing collections have been selectively destroyed or concealed, and when all new field archaeology in the United States is a political exercise rather than a scientific investigation . . . . [American] leadership in archaeological research . . . . will be lost, and it will be left to other nations to make future advances in archaeological methods, techniques, and scholarly investigations into the ancient past. (1992)

Concerning the above question as to the remains being ancestral to Indians and therefore subject to Indian claims, there is not universal agreement on this point. It would be difficult to argue that even the most ancient human bones are not ancestral to modern day Indians in general, but claims of specific tribes to bones allegedly ancestral becomes increasingly difficult to prove as one moves farther and farther back into prehistory. Meighan is very clear on this point:

Museum materials 5,000 years old are claimed by people who imagine themselves to be somehow related to the collections in question, but such a belief has no basis in evidence and is mysticism. Indeed, it is not unlikely that Indians who have acquired such collections for reburial are venerating the bones of alien groups and traditional enemies rather than distant relatives. (1992)

In this same article Meighan suggests that "Professional organizations should work to amend the legislation dealing with archaeology to get a time cut-off inserted: Remains older than a certain age should not be subject to reburial." and goes on to state that the reburial of a 10,600 year old skeleton in Idaho "should never have happened". What Meighan fails to realize is that from a pan-Indian perspective, relationships like friend or enemy do not matter. Further, Indian spiritual beliefs also operate in the present and apply to all people - that is, their spiritual beliefs are not perceived as only being true for Indians. The worldview is exactly that, global, and no one is outside it, past, present, or future. We can argue that these beliefs are incorrect, that we do not see them as applying to ourselves, but we must appreciate their perspective and attempt to understand it if we are to avoid arguing at cross-purposes. From the Indian perspective it would be wrong even for the bones of Meighan, a contemporary enemy, to be displayed in a glass museum case and for his spirit to be trapped there. To treat such beliefs as mysticism, whether they are or not (and assuming Meighan is using the term in the pejorative), is to invite an adversarial relationship. From a pragmatic perspective this clearly should be avoided, unless we are very certain of being able to force our will.

From the ethical perspective things do not seem immediately clear. If ethics are relative, then the ethics of archaeology are at odds with the ethics of the Indian community. Will the 'correct' ethics be chosen through a democratic expression of public opinion? Perhaps, but if so, given current public opinion in favour of the Indians, this would not bode well for archaeology.

Or one can adopt the premise that ethics are not relative and that therefore can be useful as a tool for the assessment and resolution of dilemmas. This perspective is one taken by the Social Science Federation of Canada (SSFC), and is outlined in their publication Ethical Decision Making for Practicing Social Scientists (Cannie Stark-Adamec and Jean Pettifor, 1995).

a) Dilemmas may result from conflict between the interests of different parties.... Can all interests be served, or must priorities be set and choices be made?

b) Dilemmas may arise from conflict between principles...

c) Dilemmas may arise from the sheer complexity of competing parties and pressures.

d) Dilemmas may arise from lack of awareness of the probable consequences of some behaviour, or lack of foresight, or lack of knowledge of ethical principles.

To some extent the reburial conflict involves all of the above sources of dilemma. The SSFC advocates 9 steps towards the resolution of such dilemmas, the first five of which are:

1. Identify the ethically-relevant issues, principles, standards, rules and practices.

2. Identify the different parties affected by your decision and their special characteristics and interests.

3. Develop all the alternative courses of action.

4. Analyze the likely short-term, ongoing, and long term risks, benefits, consequences of each course of action on different persons who may be affected by your decision.

5 Consider how any personal values, biases, beliefs, or self-interest may influence your decision ~ either positively or negatively.

In considering the first point, an ethically-relevant question might be can human remains be treated as 'stuff'? Can a person or group 'own' human remains? The answer from a Western perspective is clearly 'yes'. Drawers and cabinets are filled with such remains. It is not only clear from an atheistic perspective, but even Western spirituality regards the dead body as something which is left behind in favour of some sort of spiritual body. The remains of the dead are to be treated with respect in the short term at least, there is often some ceremony, and survivors may have some attachment to the place where such remains are laid to rest, but all of this is of limited duration and primarily for the benefit of the bereaved. The soul has gone elsewhere.

From the Indian perspective the only owner who has clear title the remains of the dead is Mother Nature. The remains are not static, but play a dynamic role in a spiritual-ecological process. They have their place, and it is not in the possession of any person or institution. Spirit is attached to the dead matter, and if it is in a drawer in an archaeology lab, then there also is the spirit trapped.

Or as Chief Seattle summarized this difference, "To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their final resting place is hallowed ground, while you wander far from the graves of your ancestors and, seemingly, without regret." (1854, in Turner, 1989)

Many archaeologists (including Meighan) feel that they have some sort of obligation to tell the story of the people of prehistory. They feel that the best way to do this is through some form of scientific method which draws cultural inferences from material remains. Historical records are a good source, but may be suspect and are stronger if they can be supported by archaeological evidence. Oral 'history' is often seen as falling into the category of mythology and reliability is perceived as decreasing the farther back in time the events being related. If relationship is not recognized between these people of prehistory and contemporary Indians, then there is no obligation to contemporary Indians. They are unrelated and contemporary Indian claims can be dismissed as irrelevant.

Indians, on the other hand, place a greater emphasis on oral history and tradition. Literacy is a recent acquisition for Indians, and they are aware that it is a European import which their ancestors did without from the beginning of time when they were created. They don't only understand their prehistory, they "know" it (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989). The people of prehistory are regarded as ancestors and very strongly related. For them a keenly felt issue is that of respect. Hammil and Cruz (1989) asked of the O'Odham nation in Southern Arizona "What message . . . would you send to a world organization of archaeologists?"

You tell them that we do not treat our bones with such disrespect. Those bones are our ancestors . . . and they are sacred. By disturbing the ancestors' graves and spirits, they have caused many problems and hard times for our people and this makes us very sad. You tell them that the bones of our ancestors must be returned. They are sacred and we do not treat our ancestors with such disrespect.

Yet the return of "the bones of the ancestors" seems to some archaeologists to violate what they consider an ethical obligation not only to the people of prehistory, but to living people today (including Indians), as well as to future generations (Goldstein and Kintigh, 1990). Destruction of data is analogous to the burning of libraries.

The second point in the SSFC document (Stark-Adanec and Pettifor, 1995), "Identify the different parties . . . special characteristics and interests," I believe has been covered adequately so far in the brief overview that this paper represents.

The third point is "Develop all the alternative courses of action." These courses fall broadly into three categories which (viewed from the archaeological perspective) are: unconditional surrender, never surrender, and compromise.

I will begin by exploring the 'unconditional surrender' approach, since there is a holdover from the first point which is best addressed in relation to this, and this is the idea that archaeologists somehow have an inherent 'right' to dig graves. This a point which Anthony L. Klesert and Shirley Powell (1993) stress again and again.

Archaeologists have no intrinsic right to survey, excavate of manipulate the material remains of the past, and their failure to understand this constraint is, we believe, the source of the current and continued contention between archaeologists and Native Americans.
It is a perilous delusion to ever believe that archaeologists have a natural "right" or overriding "mandate" to dig up anything at all (Goldstein and Kintigh, 1990; Meighan, 1984; Turner, 1986; White, 1991), much less when that act interferes with or is contrary to the religious and cultural beliefs of and interests of those being studied or of their descendants (Adams, 1984)

We have no inherent right to dig or study human remains. Furthermore, our obligations, once we might be permitted to conduct such work, go well beyond the human tissue lying in our hands, to the entire living system it represents.

To Meighan's criticism that constraints constitute an infringement of academic freedom (Meighan, 1986, in Klesert and Powell, 1993), they respond that

Academic freedom involves the freedom to think, to inquire, and to espouse diverse philosophies. It does not and should not include the freedom to act as one pleases. Actions (methods and techniques) are not covered under academic freedom, nor should they be. Excavating, analyzing, studying details of indigenous cultures, and curating human remains are actions, not thoughts, and are therefore subject to ethical constraints.

However, this begs the question of the extent of religious freedom as well. Does it extend to dictating what archaeologists may or may not do?

"Under the first amendment one is free to believe whatever one wishes but cannot compel the actions of others in accord with one's religious beliefs. Reburial is an "action" which is forced upon archaeologists based on professed Indian religion." (Meighan, 1996)

A great deal of how one interprets which rights are to be respected and which are being violated depends very much upon the beliefs the interpreter possesses prior to even considering the question. To some extent, then, higher principles are evoked to defend a priori positions. This problem should be recognized up front in order to avoid wasting time and energy self-righteously waving the banners of rights and freedoms, something to which both sides have equal access with neither side being wrong. From a pragmatic perspective, archaeologists will dig whatever and wherever they want, according to opportunity and constraints. Indian interests threaten to impose constraints, and focus must be upon what their interest constitutes, how far it is justified, and what measures need to be taken to see that it is insured only to that extent.

It is tempting to characterize the 'never surrender' perspective with the following quote from a newsletter of the American Committee for Preservation of Archaeological Collections (ACPAC) (1986, quoted in Hubert, 1989)

Archaeologists, your profession is on the line. Now is the time to dig deep and help ACPAC with its expenses for legal fees. Next year or next month will be too late; we have to act immediately to fight this issue. This one will be resolved in court, not by the press. We will be able to cross-examine Indians on their tribal affinities, religion, and connection to the archaeological remains they seek to destroy. We will be able to challenge anti-science laws based on race and religion. We can make a strong case, but it takes money. Send some!

Clearly, this is from the extreme edge of this perspective. However, archaeologists in this camp (in any camp) have legitimate concerns about loss of data that has been collected, and potentially serious impairment of their ability to collect data and to interpret North American prehistory in the future.

The most promising approach seems to be compromise, though it is fraught with problems. In compromise neither side gets completely what they want, and furthermore, to even begin an honest attempt at compromise, both parties must be prepared to recognize, at least to some reasonable extent, the legitimacy of the other. What is the basis upon which the parties can arrive at this acknowledgment?

For archaeologists a critical factor in dealing with any Indian group is the issue of relationship. What they offer the Indians as a basis for their own legitimacy is simply the value of archaeology as a tool with which to understand prehistory.

We concur with the Society for American Archaeology's (SAA) position that the basis of legitimacy in the Native case is "relationship," and the basis of legitimacy for the scientific case is scientific value. To the extent that we can achieve agreement, in the abstract here, we believe that we can and should compromise. On the other hand, to the extent that some Native Americans or some archaeologists wish to have their belief systems dominate, we must strive to prevent it. (Goldstein and Kintigh, 1990)

Goldstein and Kintigh are well advised to use the term "in the abstract". They do not consider pan-Indian claims any more legitimate than the "claims of a specific tribe where the archaeological and historical evidence clearly indicates that there is no relationship..." However, even if archaeologists were prepared to accept pan-Indian claims, there would still be concern for the legitimacy of the representation. If just any old Indian person were to show up at the Archaeology Department office of a major university and demand that his sack be filled with remains for reburial, he would likely not be successful in his request.

Meighan asks "whether a majority of living persons of Indian descent actually favor reburial or the continued preservation display, and study of Indian remains and artifacts..." Hammil and Cruz insure that the credentials of their association, American Indians Against Desecration (AIAD), and its objectives are known (1989):

[AIAD] is a project of the International Indian Treaty Council which was formed ... in 1974 with delegates representing some 97 Indian tribes and Nations from across North and South America. We hold non-governmental status in the United Nations.

They estimate that half a million bodies are stored in government financed institutions in the United States and that a half million more are stored outside the United States.

It is AIAD's objective, and intent to ensure that all Indian remains and sacred objects buried therewith are returned ... Anything less is unacceptable and to ensure our objective's success, we are training our children and grandchildren in locating and securing the return of our ancestors and sacred items.

Though it would be comforting for archaeologists trying to justify a hard line to characterize Indians seeking reburial of remains as unaffiliated fanatics or political opportunists, it seems in actuality that there are legitimate groups with claims which should be considered, and that from the archaeological side there is a basis for compromise.

Can Indians regard archaeologists as legitimate enough to try to work at a compromise with?

As a result of this confrontation and conflict of values, anthropology and archaeology are normally rejected by American Indian students as potential professions, and by Native Americans generally as irrelevant (or even pernicious) fields of study. Klesert and Holt (1985, 1990), in an analysis of questionnaires sent to nearly 300 American Indian tribes, support this contention; fewer than half the responding tribes considered archaeology to be of any benefit at all. (Anthony L. Klesert, 1992)

Meighan provides an example of going too far, in his opinion, in cooperation in his 1991 example of the West Virginia Department of Transportation's agreement with a "committee of Indians and non-Indians" and an agreement made whereby all human remains, chipping waste, food refuse, pollen samples and even soil samples had to be given up within the year. The total cost to taxpayers was $1.8 million U.S. dollars. Further, "Indian activists were paid by the state to monitor the excavation and to censor "objectionable" photographs or data appearing in the final report." (1994). Also upsetting to Meighan was the pan-Indian nature of the committee.

As if to emphasize their contempt for real ancestral relationships, the activists . . . . included Indians from tribes as far away as northwestern Washington, as well as non-Indians. Meanwhile, the views of a local West Virginia tribe that favored preservation of the remains were ignored. (1994, italics mine)

While for many Indians the legitimacy of archaeologists based on the value of science is non-existent or severely circumscribed at best, there are some positive examples. The Navajo are taking an affirmative action approach with their Navajo Nation Archaeology Department (NNAD) which, if successful in its long term objectives will eliminate the question of archaeologists work with Indians by developing Indian archaeologists. Currently they have professional non-Indian archaeologists in the top positions, but they are aggressively training Navajos, in cooperation with Northern Arizona University, towards a day when the NNAD will be entirely staffed by Navajos. They regard archaeological expertise as very important in land claim cases, the protection of endangered graves, and tourism (the establishment of Tribal Parks emphasizing prehistory of Navajo people) (Klesert, 1992).

The Navajo example, with their establishment of a complete archaeology department, is the best example of cooperation that I have come across in my review, but there are many others as well. Klesert points to the cooperation between the Kodiak Area Native Association and Bryn Mawr College at Kodiak Island (Pullar, 1990, in Klesert, 1992). Phil Hobler's work on the North West Coast has led to Indians developing a renewed interest in their cultural past with the direct consequence of reinstitution of potlatch festivals (Clark, 1995). A similar situation occurred for the Colorado River Indians, who were given songs preserved earlier by a museum:

... the elders started remembering. It started coming back to them. They started singing, and somehow, the tribe got involved in trying to recoup those old songs that had been lost. . . .The elders would not have picked up some of those songs if they had not gotten about them [sic] from the project. (Antone, in Hubert, 1989)

The benefits of cooperation do not extend only in one direction either. Hobler has pointed out that the oral histories can provide clues and confirmation for archaeological research. He points to the legends of the two floods on the N.W. Coast, and how they relate well to geological data supporting two marine transgressions in prehistory (Hobler, 1995).

Larry J. Zimmerman likewise points to collaborative work between archaeologists and The Pawnee Indians to

summarize the archaeological record of their tribe for a court case involving repatriation of human remains. At the same time Pawnee tribal historian Roger Echo-Hawk gathered previously recorded oral history and other materials pertaining to Pawnee origins and history. Since the case, archaeologist Steve Holen has worked with Echo-Hawk to compare the archaeological record and the oral history . . . . Many Pawnee narratives are reflected in the archaeological record. (1994)

In a sense, we lost the bones, but we gained something else in return, compromise in action. Another point in favour of greater respect for the oral tradition is that it deals with meaning. Hobler (1995a) has pointed out that a difference between Old World archaeology and New World is that the former is more humanistic in its perspective, while the latter tends to be more 'scientific' (just the facts ma'am). If there were a greater sense of meaning, a story unfolding, then it would be of greater interest to people in general, Indians and non-Indians alike.

The fourth point in ethical resolution of dilemmas outlined by the SSFC is to "Analyze the likely short-term, ongoing, and long term risks, benefits, consequences of each course of action on different persons who may be affected by your decision." Since this is a general overview of the reburial controversy I will restrict myself to a summary of the effects on the different groups in question.

The hard-line approach on the part of archaeologists may in the short term preserve collections, but the current atmosphere is tense and not conducive to getting work done, since the trust of Indians is required for optimum results, especially when seeking to work on Indian lands, and distrust leads to obstructionism. In the long term this could lead to court cases and interpretations of legislation which will be very much to archaeology's disadvantage.

The danger in giving in totally to Indian demands is that items of archaeological value, even of the greatest value, will be lost (as in Meighan's reference to reburial of 10,500 year old remains in Ohio. (1992)) Furthermore, giving in completely to pan-Indian demands could lead to complicity of archaeology in the domination of the interests of local tribes by groups claiming to represent pan-Indian interests (Meighan's example of the West Virginia tribe which favoured preservation but was overruled (1994)).

In the short term compromise will require leaning more in the direction of Indian's interest and the dangers outlined in the paragraph above may be unavoidable. As far as the ongoing is concerned there is not much advantage, since Indians will perceive themselves as getting no more than what they've been entitled to all along. In the long term, however, closer cooperation between archaeologists and Indians will lead to a greater familiarity with and respect for archaeology on the part of Indians, coupled with a greater desire to utilize it as a tool. Positive examples of cooperation will increase and attitudes towards archaeology will change for the better. Our understanding of North American prehistory will be richer when archaeological method works with meaning rich traditional Indian perspectives to tell this ongoing story of which we are all now a part.

The fifth SSFC point is to "consider how any personal values, biases, beliefs, or self-interest may influence your decision ~ either positively or negatively."

If we are aware of our Eurocentric perspective, then we can consider it and retain what is of value in it (we Indo-Europeans are not conquering the world by simple application of brute force alone), while at the same time being cautious of those elements which function to the detriment of ourselves and others. If we are not aware of this perspective, we will regard its products and processes as being those of some fundamental 'truth' which they are not.

The final three points of the SSFC are:

7. Act with a commitment to assume responsibility for the consequences of the action.

8. Evaluate the results of the course of action.

9. Assume responsibility for consequences of your action, including correction of negative consequences, if any, or reengaging in the decision-making process if the ethical issue is not resolved.

Evaluation and responsibility are ongoing. The greater issue of which the reburial controversy is a part is the cooperation of Indians and archaeologists towards a deeper understanding of North American prehistory. The reburial controversy is a litmus test of the extent to which this is possible. The situation cannot be resolved, but it will evolve, and we can act in our own interests by respecting the interests of Indians. The best case scenario is one in which we harvest and share the fruits of both perspectives ~ not once and for all, but season by season, always aware of the weather.

Finally, as a closing note, I would like to ask the question, very pertinent to reburial, whether we can close our minds totally to spiritual concerns:

I think it is foolish to pretend on the basis of a wholly materialistic science (which can only measure quantities) that there is nothing spiritual and nonmaterial in our universe. It is this attitude, as much as anything, that distinguishes Indians from the rest of American society and most certainly from the scientific endeavor. Whether there is sufficient proof of the Indian beliefs and experiences or not, it is a hazardous thing to assume without good cause that the Indians are lying or simply superstitious. (Vine Deloria, Jr., 1992)

Having opened this essay with a spiritual warning from the Bard, let me close with one from an Indian perspective:

The White Man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. (Chief Seattle, 1854, in Turner, 1989)


Adams, Douglas, 1982. Life, the Universe, and Everything. New York: Random House.

Clark, Mike, 1995. In tutorial, Archaeology of North America course, Simon Fraser University.

Deloria, V., Jr. (1992) Indians, Archaeologists, and the Future. Am. Ant. 57:595-598

Goldstein, Lynne and Kintigh, Keith (1990). Ethics and the reburial controversy. Am. Ant. 55(3)

Hammil, Jan and Robert Cruz (1989). Statement of American Indians Against Desecration before the World Archaeological Congress. In Layton, R. Conflict in the Archaeology of Living Traditions. London: Unwin Hyman

Hobler, Phil (1995) in conversation

.....(1995a) In lecture, Archaeology of North America course, Simon Fraser University.

Hubert, Jane (1989). A proper place for the dead: a critical review of the 'reburial' issue. In Layton, R. Conflict in the Archaeology of Living Traditions. London: Unwin Hyman

Klesert, Anthony L. & Powell, Shirley (1993) A perspective on Ethics and the Reburial Controversy. American Antiquity 58(2) pp.348-354

Klesert, A.L. (1992) A view from Navajoland on the reconciliation of anthropologists and Native Americans. Human Organization 51:17-22

McGuirre, Randall H. (1989). The sanctity of the grave: White concepts and American Indian burials. In Layton, R. Conflict in the Archaeology of Living Traditions. London: Unwin Hyman

Meighan, C.W. (1992) Some Scholars' Views on Reburial. Am. Ant. 57:704-710.

.....(1994) Burying American Archaeology. Archaeology 47:6

.....(1996) email to author, May 17th

Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare, 1974. New York: Houghton Mifflin

Stark-Adanec, Cannie and Jean Pettifor, 1995 (in press, February 20th draft), Ethical decision making for practising social scientists: Putting values into practice. Ottawa: Social Science Federation of Canada. This has since been published and is available from Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada (

Turner, Earnest (1989). The souls of my dead brothers. In Layton, R. Conflict in the Archaeology of Living Traditions. London: Unwin Hyman

Zimmerman, Larry J. (1994) Sharing Control of the Past. Archaeology 47:6

Thoughts or Comments (?)

1995 Eric Pettifor

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