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Comments are grouped by article. All comments are from students in Dr. Ken Tankersley's Introduction to Archaeology class at Kent State Univesity. (posted as received)

Burying American Archaeology by Clement W. Meighan

Winter 2001

Sean Donohue

I read the article "Burying American Archaeology" and found in rather interesting and did not realize that this was such an issue. I don't know even where to start because one does not even think about it if you are not pursuing in a field of that nature. However, now that it has been brought to my attention I too have an opinion about the situation. I can see both sides to the story, on one side there are native americans who feel that there ancestry should be protected and the other side feels the knowledge they can reveal from studying the buried will improve our future and I am sure it will.

The native americans do have a point but who is to say that it is there ancestry or that there is any relation at all, and even if there was would it matter considering the artifacts or bodies are so old that there may not be any significance to argue the fact.

Its not like archaeologist go to local cemeteries and dig up the dead from ten years ago they are simply trying to better human kind by studying the disease patterns and other important information that may be crucial to the future.

Like I said before I see both sides however, there needs to be a line that the archaeologist do not cross as well as the native americans. By doing this I feel that both groups could compromise and be happy considering neither group has tried to create some type of compromise.

Brad Eckert
I read the article called "Burying American Archaeology", and found that I disagreed with many of the points brought up by the author. The author Clemment W. Meighan quotes, "In my view, archaeologist have a responsibility to the people they study". I have a problem with this statement due to the fact that archaeologist really can not prove the exact beliefs of an ancient tribe 2000 years ago.

While attending a class in my Intro to archaeology class, my professor told a story of a well that was carved into a solid piece of rock. Each archaeologist had there on theories on why the well was carved. On hypothesis was that the well was dug for water to be stored and keep cool due to the depth of it. The archaeologist brought along a few elders of this once long tribe and asked them the use for this well. They explained the use of the well was to let the boys of the tribe crawl into and come out the other side a man. If the people of this world had listened to the archaeologist point of view, we would now have a completely wrong idea of their so-called well
and religious beliefs.

When an archaeologist picks up A stone and tries to act like you can discover there time know of the ways and lifestyles of their people religious practices by the way a stone was carved is not feasible. Archaeologist should not try to tell a story of how the people acted or lived. In place of this ideology they should supplement a view of displaying the artifacts found and let the people explore their own thoughts and beliefs. When an intelligent archaeologist says this is how the artifact was used then people don't think for themselves. In the end only the people that lived at that time can tell the true story of the past.

Matt Maisano
Losing answers

When you think about American archeology, the fist thing that usually comes to mind is the American Indians. The excavating and reaching done to historical American Indian sites is the corner stone of North American history. The research that is done on the remains found at these archeological digs answer so my questions about our past. If these digs became illegal then some key questions about our history might never be answered.

When reading an article written by Clement W. Meighan titled "Burying American Archaeology" she discusses about how American archeology is a dieing subject. Meighan states that not only American Indians are seeking regulations on archaeology but also other groups such as Australian aborigines, and ultra- orthodox Jews. Since there are more and more regulations and laws being past every year, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, students that study American archeology find it hard to actually get any hands on experience in the field.

When looking at the other side of the coin, I understand that these people might want there ancestors remains kept buried for religious believes or whatever the case my be. Yet these remains are key in understanding our past and if not examined using our latest technology then our past will always have unanswered questions. I believe the remains of the dead should be reburied but not after a sample is kept and the necessary time to study the total remains is taken.

The human species thrives for knowledge expectably about our past and how we got to a certain place in time. If American archeology dies out because of the many regulations and laws then I believe we are only hurting ourselves in answering the questions of how and when.

Burying American Archaeology

When I first started reading this article by Clement W. Meighan. I thought about both sides of the issue. I thought the Indians have the right to express their religion about the burial rights of their people and that the scientists should figure out another way of learning the past. But as I started reading the article, it became clear. The scientists are the ones who want to learn more about the past and wish to help the Indians. I think the Indians don't want the bones found because it could change the way the government helps them. I really think that the activists are really the ones who want the scientists to stop site digging and taking the artifacts from the graves. The activists probably didn't even ask the Indians what they really want and just assumed that they didn't want the scientists to take the bones. The activists are probably the ones who stirred up some Indian tribes, just so that they have something to complain about and to keep the scientists from doing their job. The activists probably don't even know what exactly the scientist's job is. They think that the scientist's job is to dig up things and not care about anything around them. My opinion is that the scientists have every right to learn about the past and the stupid activists should just shut up and leave the scientists to do their job.

Fall 2000

Sean Higgins
In Response to Burying American Archaeology

In America today there are many cultural differences that have been established in or by our society. American Indians are a group that has received many hardships and have firm beliefs in their culture of the present day and of the past. They hold many beliefs in their handling of their dead that have been around longer than the United States has been around. Preservation of many of ancient burial sites seems necessary in regard to honoring the dead. However many of the sites that have in the past or will be excavated in the future by archaeologists can be a huge factor in placing the puzzle of their past in order. This will not only help the archaeology field but also will give many Native Americans the only proof of what their past was really like.

Their now has been recent proposition to return artifacts such as bones to their original place at rest. Many Native American activists, some Native American and some not, have received the government’s permission to replenish the sites where excavated artifacts have been taken from. This seems to be a way for both the Native Americans and the archaeologists to both receive a fair way in order to keep both parties happy. This only created more controversy in the fact that they will be destroyed in the natural environment in which they came from, and a controlled atmosphere is the only way in which to preserve them and to be viewed and admired by many people was more logical for the preservation.

Learning about the past is very important for us as humans. In stopping archaeological digs or putting back artifacts would only ruin the chance of learning about the ancestors before us and how they lived. Denying this right from the Native Americans who want to learn more about their past isn’t fair to them. This will always be an issue in the world of archaeology and will always be true with people having opposite opinions or beliefs on the past. The past is something that we all should cherish and try to learn more about, but we all must keep in mind how the people of the past would feel about it.

Courtney Perram

"American Indians, Australian aboriginies, and ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel have all attacked archaeology in recent years and continue to seek restrictions on archaeological study."A quote from Clement W. Meighan's paper on "Burying American Archaeology". Meighan states many of the various rules, such as the Native American Graves and Protection and Repatriation Act. "Some sort of relationship must be shown between claimants and the materials claimed." (Meighan).

Is it fair for any people to invade the studies of these historical findings? What about the cultural continuity of the living persons and those that have been long deceased? How do those that are still alive know that handling of the deceased should be done in such an articulate manor - for example, the Indians that were paid to monitor the excavation of the ancient Adena Mound, said that the remains must be wrapped up in red flannel and menstruating women can not touch them.

Archaeologists define the culture of an extinct group and from the data that they have gathered, they are writing history from what they have investigated. I feel that they should respect rules of certain cultures, but if that culture is extinct, they should still treat the remains with the greatest respect, but do whatever means necessary to obtain the data they need. I feel that by standards should give pointers of what they know, but stay out of the studies of the archaeologist. To learn about these past cultures, the only way we will know of them, is from those who study them.

Name Withheld

In modern times it is consistently amazing to me how often people are willing to misrepresent themselves and their real interests in order to draw attention and keep up appearances. Burying American Archaeology provides insights into this from the perspective of the political correctness fad interfering with scientists' search for an accurate understanding of our human past. Due to pressure from activists both Indian and non-Indian in heritage, archaeologists have been forced to turn over ancient remains for reburial for decades now. This would be fine if the purpose of the reburial were to honor the wishes and traditions of the late owner of those remains, or even those of the late owner's living relatives. However too often this happens at the request of individuals who have no direct connection to the deceased whatsoever, and therefore are butting in only to impose their views as a means of drawing attention and support for their own causes, at the expense of expanding an accurate knowledge of our past. It isn't as though we don't owe the native peoples of this land all the respect we can afford them (not to mention a sizeable apology), but we can best honor them by gaining an accurate knowledge of their heritage, not by burying it.

Eric Turk
Burying American Archaeology

This article talks about how the Virginia Department of Transportation signed an agreement about how everything found near the two thousand year old Adena Mound would have to be reburied. I think that you have to respect other people's beliefs. If a certain culture does not want the remains of their people and their culture dug up, I think that you have to honor their beliefs. Think how you would feel if someone dug up one of your own relatives. I can see though how from an Archaeologists perspective they would not agree with me. To an Archaeologist that would mean that they would never find anything out about that culture. But, if there is a law that no longer applies in this situation then it should no longer be enforced. For example, this article states that most American Indians no longer hold the same beliefs on this issue as they did before. Then maybe in this case the law should be changed or voted out. There is really no point in my opinion to rebury artifacts. I think that you have to go one way or the other. Either never dig up the remains because you have respect for that culture or you should locate the artifacts and use them to the best of your ability to find out as much as you can about the culture. I think that as a society we need to decide whether it is okay to excavate American Indians remains. What we know today about the Indians' past is not even based on our own countries records. I agree with the last part of the article where the author states that it would be interesting to know what living persons of Indian descent think about the topic of reburial.

Ben Simak

The article that I read that really stuck out at me was "Burying American Archaeology" by Clement W. Meighan. I believe that Mr. Meighan presents a very well thought out argument against the reburial of artifacts after a road construction project in Virginia. I believe that the reburial of the artifacts would do a great injustice to everybody involved, including those favoring the reburial. I don't understand why the reburial supporters wouldn't recognize the fact that if this occurred every time in the past that archaeological work needed to be done, we wouldn't have much of the information we have now about ancient peoples. It is somewhat unfair that the people involved with these types of decisions tend to be coming from a more political stance rather than one that would promote education regarding an integral part of our history. They seem to be more concerned about improving relations with certain groups, many of whom they are on good terms with anyways.

Mr. Meighan is correct in saying that if the Native Americans favoring the reburial are using violation of religous freedom as the excuse, they should realize that no one else gets those sorts of freedoms. Archaeologists are directly helping cultures realize their true history. Even if these histories seem to have already been determined, as Meighan states, what harm would it be to use other artifacts as comparision and possible find error in prior findings. I don't think the Native Americans, or anyone else for that matter, would just want records of their ancestors to be lost forever.

Kelly Gittinger
Burying American Archaeology

"Archaeologists have a responsibility to the people they study." Because of this, it is crucial that studies remain for many years to come. People must continue to learn about the past and the ancient remains are there to help us in the learning process. The article tells how it is being questioned as to whether ancient remains should be buried. The author is arguing that people, archaeologists, have put so much time and effort into finding these remains of our past that it would be a waste to bury them, and be done with it. I agree with him because if all the archaeologists before us thought in this way, we would not have a chance to gain more knowledge about the past.

Without archaeology, the ancient people have no past. It is not right that we should end the exploration of new knowledge and bury remains that have been found. I am unaware as to why museums would want to get rid of any artifacts. Even when something has been completely analyzed and studied, it must be kept to preserve the data. What happens when one comes up with an idea that contradicts what the other has concluded about a certain artifact? Without that artifact, it will be rather difficult to support your idea.

Now a days, so many laws are put out relating to archaeological digs, what you can and can not do, therefore it makes a person feel very constricted as to what they may learn and explore. What archaeologists conclude from their digs is not only beneficial to themselves, but to the whole public, and our history, as well.

Todd Battistelli
Response to "Burying American Archaeology"
by Clement W. Meighan (UCLA)

Meighan's article, while attempting to rationalize the argument against universal repatriation of Native American artifacts, succeeds best in typifying the polar nature of this issue, and does little to further his argument or diminish his opponent's argument. In the first half of his paper Meighan provides good evidence of the ill-conceived logic behind some of the repatriation laws and demands. The most compelling argument Meighan gives is the assumption made by those demanding repatriation of artifacts of "direct genetic and cultural continuity between living persons and those long deceased." The fact that there may be a certain Indian tribe living in an area of present day excavation does not mean that artifacts found at the site belong to the ancestors of that tribe. People move, cultures die out, and it is impossible to "[establish] a familial relationship spanning 20 or more generations of unrecorded history." This argument should exclude more recent sites where lineage is more certain.

After presenting a reasonable introduction Meighan comments on the political and divisive nature of the issue before falling into a divisive argument himself. His argument begins to lose cohesion as he calls the claims of those supporting repatriation "utterly implausible." The entreat of the activists in the Adena mound case, that everything (including ecofacts and soil samples) be reburied and that documentation be censored, was implausible given the time span involved. Meighan does not, however, make allowances for more recent sites where continuity between artifacts and living people is evident. It is highly unlikely that Meighan would approve
of scientists digging up his grandfather, even if it was done to further the "triumph of Western civilization." Meighan's use of phrases such as "utterly implausible" and "New Age disposition to…invent beliefs" tend to sound more of confrontation than the "rational thought" Meighan claims to hold in such high regard.

It is evident from Meighan's essay that this issue, like so many issues in our culture today, has become polarized. Instead of trying to find middle ground on which we can agree upon, intelligent people with good intentions on both ends of the argument end up screaming extremes at each other from across the room. This does little to further either agenda and stagnates both the scientific and humanistic aspects of anthropology, thus depriving the public of knowledge that is, in the end, the birthright of all humans.

Brandon Kozar

The article, "Burying American Archaeology", discusses the Adena mound, an ancient burial of American Indian corpses and artifacts relating to that time and their lives. The argument raised is that modern Indian tribes and non-Indian activists are fighting for reburial of these remains excavated on the basis of violation of religious belief and freedom. The author, Clement W. Meighan, argues that today there are so many restrictions and laws protecting American Indians and their ancestral remains that it is impossible to conduct a large scale field expedition without violating some law. Meighan also writes that the research done by scientists and scholars on the findings tells on a large scale much of the present day knowledge Indians and non-Indians have of the Indian Heritage. Meighan goes on to give a few more reasons why the findings should remain in preservation.

In my opinion the real battle here is Ethics vs. Science. This land we live on was not first ours. The American people tend to forget on how we obtained this land in the first place, by basically robbing and killing off the Indians that were here first. Now I am very much in favor of the preservation of scientific findings and research, but there is a valid point to be heard if the ancient people of this land want there ancestors (that died before we got here), to stay or be put back in their proper resting place because of their ancient beliefs.

This argument is much more complicated and diverse than to be summarized in a one-page essay, which is the case every time ethics and science clash. It shall be interesting to see the future of this one.

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