Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different: History Department Hosts Skull Session

According to a Salt Lake, Utah, television station, yesterday a package was received by the History Department at the Brigham Young University Campus in Provo.  Upon opening it, an unlucky employee found two skulls packed in bubble wrap.  Sent via USPS Priority Mail, and addressed to "historical department," there was "no explanation why two skulls were being mailed to the university."  The police were called, and the skulls have been shipped to the office of the state archaeologist for forensic analysis.  As KSL reports on its website,

The leading theory now is that the skulls are likely those of Native Americans and someone may have decided that possessing the skulls was a bad idea, especially with the recent artifact possession indictments in southeastern Utah. Investigators believe that by sending them to a university, the person thought someone on campus would know what to do with them.

"No note at all. It had a return address of Augusta, Montana, with the name of "Jim Crow," and that was it," [the police spokesperson] said.

The name of Jim Crow initially raised some concern due to its history with segregation in the South. Detectives have not found anyone with that name in the Montana town and believe it was a made-up name, like John Doe.

Jim Crow, John Doe -- whatever.  A little bit of research reveals that the Crow (Apsaalooke) Nation headquarters are also in Montana, slightly south of Billings:  Augusta is a four hour drive from there.  

The other important information is that, should your university, department, or local historical society be in possession of Native American artifacts or remains, this may also be in violation of federal law.  NAGPRA, which demands the cataloguing and eventual repatriation of objects, many of which are sacred.  Human remains have spiritual implications for the group in question and need to be properly interred, taken from indigenous people in the United States during the long colonization of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.   Remains improperly retained, I am also told by a Native colleague, can cause you to become sick.  


Anonymous said...

Informed sources report that the box contained the remains of Ambrose Hofstadter Bierce, III, and C. Vann Winchell.

Tenured Radical said...

Heh, heh.

Anonymous said...

Actually, NAGPRA (and its implementation) is a very complicated federal regulation that does not always "demand the cataloging and eventual repatriation of objects."

The original law was a delicate balance between a variety of constituent groups and interested parties who each have legitimate concerns and interests in the disposition of human remains.

The implementation of NAGPRA (especially when cultural and biological affinity between the human remains and possible descendant communities is unclear) is a difficult process. One intention of NAGPRA is to encourage communication and consultation between scientists, the multiple potential descendant groups, and other parties having legitimate interest.

While I enjoy reading your posts, in this case, I fear your simplistic statements about a complex process will misinform many of your readers.

You and they may want to review the documents at: for an alternative perspective.