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Writing Collaborative History Volume 53 Number 5, September/October 2000
by Jeffrey L. Hantman, Karenne Wood, and Diane Shields

How the Monacan Nation and archaeologists worked together to enrich our understanding of Virginia's native peoples.


The perception of archaeologists and Native Americans as adversaries in the writing of Indian history understandably captures much media attention. Ten years after the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), tensions remain high over fundamental questions raised by NAGPRA and related legal and ethical challenges affecting how archaeology is practiced in the United States. From our own experience, as representatives of archaeological and Native American communities, we know that controversy does not have to be the norm. Our efforts over the past decade tell us that a cooperative relationship between Native American tribes and archaeologists is not only possible, but is beneficial in ways we ourselves did not initially imagine. We have learned to listen to each other's interests and needs concerning the respectful treatment of archaeological sites, objects, and human remains. We know that clearcut answers and consensus on some ethical questions are not readily available and that members of the communities to which we belong may not always agree with all of our decisions.

During the University of Virginia's Rapidan Mound study, which led to the October 1998 reburial of remains of hundreds of Monacans from that site, meetings were held with the Monacan Tribal Council about the work and the possible retention of a sample for possible future study. After much discussion and compromise, the Council permitted a sample to be kept. In the case of Hayes Creek Mound, the keeping of samples was not desired by the Tribe, but in those discussions a member of the Council inquired about facial reconstruction. To the Monacan tribal members, none of whom had seen any image of their ancestors prior to photographs dating to ca. 1914, it became a collective and decidedly humanistic wish. Could they see one or more of their ancestors' faces?

Jeffrey L. Hantman is associate professor and chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Virginia. Karenne Wood is director of historic research for the Monacan Indian Nation. Diane Shields is coordinator of historic research for the Monacan Indian Nation.

Facing the Past
by Mark Rose

A forensic artist reconstructs the visages of Monacan ancestors

[image] Skull of a Monacan woman dug up in 1901 provided the basis for this reconstruction, affording today's Monacans a look at their ancestors. (Facial reconstruction by Sharon Long; photographs Terri Brayton)

Over the past year, forensic artist Sharon Long of Sparks, Nevada, has been reconstructing the faces of a Monacan Indian man and woman who lived in what is now west-central Virginia between A.D. 1000 and 1400. The moving force behind the project has been the modern descendants of these people. Their motive, quite simple and yet quite powerful, is to see the faces of their ancestors.

[image] Forensic artist Sharon Long removes a latex mold from the original clay sculpture of a reconstructed Monacan Indian. (Photograph by Terri Brayton)

The skulls on which the reconstructions are based were removed, along with the skeletal remains of hundreds of people from a mound on Hayes Creek, by antiquarian E.P. Valentine in 1901. Valentine took them to Richmond, where they were displayed in a museum founded by his family. By 1990, the remains had been placed in the care of Virginia's Department of Historic Resources. Historical and archaeological evidence links these remains to the Monacan Indians, who, despite Thomas Jefferson's prediction that their culture would soon die out, still live in the area today. This evidence is strong enough for the remains to be returned to the Monacans under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. The Monacan Tribal Council, in discussing the disposition of the remains with University of Virginia archaeologist Jeffrey Hantman, raised the possibility of having facial reconstructions made from these ancestral remains. Karenne Wood, director of historic research for the Monacan Indian Nation, and Diane Shields, the coordinator of historic research, applied to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities for a grant to fund the facial reconstructions.

[image] Clay bands join tissue-depth markers in an early stage of the reconstruction of a Monocan man; final version is right. (Photograph by Terri Brayton)

This past June, Long completed her work on the Monacan reconstructions. They are now displayed in Monacan Ancestral Museum in Amherst, Virginia. "Monacan tribal members were eager to see the reproduced likenesses of their ancestors," says Karenne Wood, the director of historic research for the tribe. "Many hurried to visit the museum once the reconstructions had arrived. Several tribal members noted a resemblance between the likenesses and two Monacan people of the previous generation. These tribal members were thrilled to realize that Monacan identity is still so recognizable. They left the museum with a renewed sense of pride in their Indian heritage and perhaps a better understanding of the cultural continuity that has allowed the Monacan Nation to survive."

Mark Rose is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America