Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Repatriation Standoff Volume 49 Number 2, March/April 1996
by Rebecca S. Dobosh

Eleven tribes are vying for burial rights to more than 1,000 Native American skeletons and accompanying funerary items found in the Tonto National Forest some 80 miles northeast of Phoenix. The remains are between 1,900 and 600 years old, and were found on sites to be flooded when the Roosevelt Dam is finished. Both the Hohokam culture, which collapsed ca. 1450, and the Salado, which flourished ca. 1225-1450, are represented by the remains. Four tribes from southern Arizona, led by the Tohono O'odham, want the bones buried on one of their reservations; the remaining groups want the remains reinterred near where they were found. J. Scott Wood, an archaeologist for the Tonto National Forest who heads a team working to resolve the matter, says he will try to determine the cultural affiliation of the remains and burial objects based on a "preponderance of evidence--archaeological, ethnohistoric, and linguistic."

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation surprised both the Hopi and the Zuni with the announcement that its people, too, are descended from the Anasazi, who lived in the Four Corners area north of the Hohokam and the Salado ca. A.D. 1-1600, and thus have a claim to bones in museum collections throughout the country. The Hopi describe the Navajo claim as "cultural thievery," made only for the purpose of reclaiming land given to the Hopi by the federal government. A century-old dispute involves 1.8 million acres of land in the Four Corners region that the federal government split equally between the Hopi and Zuni even though mostly Navajo lived there.

Alan Downer, the Navajo Nation's historic preservation officer, maintains that the Anasazi and the Navajo are linked in Navajo oral tradition, whose caring ceremonies recount Navajo history from primordial time and mention the intermarriage of the two groups. Downer notes that the Navajo and the Anasazi occupied the same land for centuries and that some Anasazi were absorbed into Navajo culture.

Roger Anyon, director of the Zuni Heritage and Historic Preservation Office, says that, "If the people at the National Park Service in Washington make the determination that the Navajo are affiliated [with the Anasazi], then the Zuni will dispute the claim."

* Navajo Nation's Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Papers

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America