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July 30, 2013

Essay on Bones Recovered in Excavations

Bones recovered in excavations
     The bones that are recovered from the excavation are helpful in multidisciplinary archeological project. However the reburial of these collected bones and the research on these bones as archeological collection is a serious conflict. Archeologists are supposed to sustain their rights and duties. This issue has raised the problem of ethics in scientific research and science. The debate in past twenty years has brought forward the requirement that archeologist should revise their assumptions about the nature of research and science and obligations to erudition. The reburial and handing over of archeological and museum collections of bones to their tribes is in debate from the last few years. This controversy was evolved due to the values and beliefs of some native groups about their ancestor’s reburial. Their beliefs exist at a level where the research and ethical concerns can coexist for constructive purpose. The massive lose in cultural heritage and disrespect to the ancient’s bones has caused the government to enact laws and legislation that can prevent the dispute. Due to the breakage of human’s rights people demand for the destruction of archeological evidence and concealment of the archeological data. The emergence of this issue is due to the dual nature of culture and scientific values ascribed in human bones. The cultural values often come between the scholarly activities of science or investigations (Clement W. Meighan, 1992).

Relevant Laws and legislations
      The scientific research and investigation is often affected by the protest or actions of communities who have direct concern with the ancient human bones for the holy and spiritual features of these materials. Due to these conflicts the government has taken several actions to prevent the clash and to protect the archeological resources. Archeological resource protection law was enacted and became a law in the legislation of United States in 1979. Due to the continuous protests from the tribes the law was modified four times. According to this law the civil and criminal has to pay penalties in charge of disturbing historical or prehistoric archeological sites of federal or Indian lands. The people will also be charged penalties for sale, or transporting the archeological collection and for evacuation or removal of these heritages from public or Indian lands without permit from government.
     The national resources preservation act and the national environmental policy act were previously enacted for the security of national heritage and to calm down the dispute between scholars and native groups who want security of their ancestors for sacred reason. The national resources preservation act was enacted in 1966. This law was enacted to secure the national historic places. This law established a national register of historic places. This law states that any organization or group that undertakes the national resource should be federally funded, licensed or permitted. The national environmental policy act was passed in 1969. This law permits the scholars and scientists by stating that archeological resources can be taken under consideration for scholarly purpose of environment assessment process or environmental impact studies.
     The Native American grave protection and repatriation act is another legislation which was implemented to satisfy the native groups by assuring the preservation of their ancestor’s bones. It states that it is mandatory to return the remaining of the ancestors of Native American’s or native Hawaiian American’s to their respective tribes. The items associated with funerary or cultural patrimony should be repatriated by the agencies. (Office of the state archeologists). These laws have put their efforts to provide a professional approach for the way of treatment with the human fossil especially to researchers and scientists who should revise their ethics and bounding in investigations.

     There are a lot of examples in history about the conflicts of Native American and researchers when the natives demand the bones of their ancestors for reburial. After the establishment of The Native American grave protection and repatriation act many agencies had returned the fossils of human to their relevant tribes. One of repatriation example was set by Harvard University. “In 1999 Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology repatriated the remains of more than 2,000 individuals to the Pecos and Jemez Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. The collection was of rare value because it was well preserved, large enough to be statistically significant, and demographically representative of a single population.” (Malik, 2007). This debate is not limited in United States but the fire is spread all over the world. Another example is found in London’s natural history museum in May 2007.London's Natural History Museum returned the skeletons of 17 Aboriginal islanders to representatives of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre. The skeletons were part of the enormous collection of bones, skulls and other human remains that are housed in the vaults below the museum. Most people know of the Museum only through its dinosaur skeletons or the blue whale hanging in the mammal room. But the Museum is also a world-renowned research centre, and much of that research - into human evolution, human history and human disease - centers on its collection of human remains. In recent years, however, there has been a growing demand, particularly by indigenous groups, for the return of such remains, a demand that was given legal force by new legislation in 2005.” (Malik, 2007)

Personal point of view
     The research on human fossil is definitely a conflicting and crucial topic. Where the bones of ancient human being can provide us information about the past by the investigation done by scholars, it is also a source of scared for many tribes. The conflict emerge with the breakage of human rights in investigation with these human fossil and tribes demand their ancestors skeletal material back for their reburial. I am not against scientific researches but an investigation that goes against the human rights and cause insolence to ancestors of many tribes is not acceptable. Ancestry is a pride to everyone no respectful tribe can bear the disrespect of their ancestors and this is the main reason of the emergence of this issue. In many religions the human beings are buried after death and therefore they want the bones of their ancestors back in order to reburial for sacred or holy reasons. I favor the demand of reburial as the religion of many tribes demand for spiritual purpose. The people are hurt by the disrespectful behavior of researchers and investigators with their ancestors; this behavior is against ethical obligations and I condemned it. In my point of view the human fossil should be returned to the native groups and tribes after the scholar activities in which ethical responsibilities should be followed so that the tribe or native groups can follow their sacred activities and reburied their ancestor’s skeletal material.

     The return of bones recovered in excavation is a conflicting issue which was emerged between tribes and researchers. It has now become an ethical dilemma because most of the people consider it unethical to use the human bones for investigation purpose or researches. These bones belong to their ancestors and they respect them spiritually. Their protest against the use of human skeletal material for research resulted in legislations by government that preserves their rights and mandates it in law for the agencies to return the human bones to their respective tribes or native groups. These laws were enacted because of the criticality and importance of human rights. The human’s skeletal material should not be treated like other archeological materials because of sacred, spiritual and cultural bounds.

Work cited
Meighan Clement W. “Some scholars view on reburial”, 1992 <>

Malik Kenan. “Who knows knowledge”. Kenan, 2007 <>


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