Provost's Working Group on Human Remains at Dartmouth

Quarterly Report, December 2023

Dartmouth's response to the discovery of Native American ancestral remains in campus facilities continues, with the Working Group on Human Remains, charged by the Office of the Provost, meeting over the past few months.

To assist in this important work, Dartmouth has hired Kerianne Armelli to serve as program manager for osteological repatriation and review. She brings a depth of knowledge and experience to the role, including doctoral studies in anatomy and skeletal biology at Kent State University. In addition, Kerianne has worked for the Ohio Mortuary Response Team and as a forensic anthropologist in the Medical Examiner and Forensic Services office of the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine at Western Michigan University.

Prior to Kerianne's arrival, an external forensic team completed the inventory and reassociation for known Native ancestors in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Kerianne will inventory, reassociate, and repatriate the non-NAGPRA remains in consultation with the working group.

The inventory process consists of the identification and documentation of each skeletal element in the collection. When possible, estimation analyses are being conducted for biological profile markers such as stature, sex, ancestry, and age. In addition, any pathology or trauma found will be documented. It is through this initial work that reassociation will be possible, providing evidence for skeletal elements that may belong to the same individual.

Along with the continuation of skeletal inventory, Kerianne is working with Emily Andrews, the NAGPRA and osteology research assistant at the Hood Museum of Art, to document all associated funerary objects at Dartmouth that fall under NAGPRA. Funerary objects are items placed with a deceased individual as part of their death rites or cultural ceremony. This includes an inventory of the Hood's off-site storage facility. The work is expected to be completed by April 2024.

After this review, revised inventories will be sent to the National NAGPRA Program and the appropriate tribal nations. Once these notices have been received, the Hood will proactively begin the consultation and repatriation processes for all NAGPRA ancestors and their associated funerary objects. Additionally, Kerianne has identified three phases of the work ahead for both Native ancestors and non-NAGPRA remains.

For Native ancestors, Phase 1 includes the items discussed above. Phase 2 will include consultation with tribes to begin the repatriation process and provide revised inventories to National NAGPRA and Tribal nations. These phases are being undertaken in the 2023-2024 academic year. Phase 3 will take place in the next academic year, 2024-2025, and will focus on the repatriation of the collection falling under NAGPRA. This will include the repatriation of remains with identified cultural affiliations in accordance with NAGPRA.

For non-NAGPRA remains, Phase 1 includes inventorying those skeletal remains that do not fall under NAGPRA. Phase 2 will include the reassociation of the remains and the establishment of the approximate number of individuals within the collection. These phases will be largely undertaken in the current academic year. In the second phase, the identification of cultural/locality affinity will, when possible, be established. Phase 3 will be conducted in the next academic year and will focus on the repatriation of the collection. The plan is for the working group to recommend a framework for the ethical collection, use, and stewardship of remains that fall outside of NAGPRA that can be adopted for Phase 3.


nagpra work plan

In parallel with Kerianne's work, working group members used this past summer to educate themselves in preparation for the work ahead. Two summer sessions were held during which group members discussed the historic use of human remains in teaching and research collections and read articles on the accumulation and mistreatment of these collections throughout the United States and Western Europe. This knowledge is being applied by the group as members work to recommend protocols and practices for reconciling Dartmouth's historic use of skeletal remains of non-consenting peoples, in addition to providing guidelines for future ethically sourced skeletal collections.

At the group's October meeting, members discussed an appropriate institutional definition for the human remains involved in this work. They also talked about establishing a human remains database for use across the university and possibly establishing a website for ongoing project updates.