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Native Americans and Archaeologists February 26, 1999


Great Mound at Marietta, Ohio

In 1848, Ephraim G. Squier and Edwin H. Davis followed the beliefs of the time when they concluded their book Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley with the following words: "the extinct race, whose name is lost to tradition itself, and whose very existence is left to the sole and silent attestation of the rude but often imposing monuments which throng the valleys of the West." But the builders of the mounds Squier and Davis recorded were neither a mysterious race nor extinct. With the publication of Cyrus Thomas' "Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology" in 1894, the mound-builder myth was finally dispelled; the ancient monuments were the work of Indians.

The relationship between archaeologists and Native Americans since then has not always been smooth, and until recently it has been characterized by a lack of effective communication. Archaeologists did not always consult with those whose forebears they studied and did not always take into account the effect of their research on them. For these reasons, as well as having their own tribal histories independent of archaeological evidence, many Indians found archaeology had little or no relevance for them. Today, however, many tribes have active archaeology and preservation offices and have taken on the responsibilities mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (amended in 1992). With passage of the Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990, closer cooperation between Native Americans and archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and museum curators became necessary, even if it was (and is) contentious at times.

Here we present articles from past issues of ARCHAEOLOGY, news items, and links to sites concerned with the ongoing dialogue between Native Americans and archaeologists.--The Editors

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America