Provost's Working Group on Human Remains at Dartmouth

Quarterly Report, April 2024

The Provostial Working Group tasked with reviewing Dartmouth's management of human remains in its care has issued its second quarterly report on its progress, Provost David Kotz '86 announced today.

In early February, the working group met with Drs. Chip Colwell and Steve Nash, two scholars with extensive experience in NAGPRA repatriation. Dr. Colwell is the founding editor-in-chief of Sapiens, as well as the author of twelve books, including Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits, which illuminates the ways in which repatriation has transformed both museums and Native American tribes. Dr. Nash is the President and CEO of Archaeology Southwest, an organization which practices conservation-based archaeology. Previously, he worked for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he led projects centered around returning belongings to Indigenous North American communities and Indigenous peoples internationally. Together, Drs. Nash and Colwell presented on NAGPRA repatriation, leading the group in a vibrant discussion on how NAGPRA frameworks can be applied to non-NAGPRA collections.

NAGPRA Update: 

On January 12, 2024, new NAGPRA regulations authored by the Department of Interior took effect. These changes included additional "Duty of Care" requirements that instruct museums to consult with tribes to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHOs) prior to exhibiting, researching, moving, or teaching with Native American objects. As a result, the last quarter's NAGPRA work has been defined by initiating consultations with tribal nations and NHOs regarding any Native American objects which are currently on display or are scheduled to go on display in the coming months. Native American objects within the Hood Museum's collection are also regularly pulled for classes taught throughout the College. The need to consult on these objects prior to teaching with them means that students and faculty may notice a slight reduction in the number of objects available for this purpose while museum staff undertake this new obligation.

In addition to these consultations, the College's NAGPRA team (Jami Powell and Emily Andrews) has attended every training offered by the National NAGPRA Program to gain the best possible understanding of the new regulations and their implications for current and future NAGPRA work at the College. Lastly, the team is pleased to report that inventories of all associated funerary objects at Dartmouth were completed at the start of the new year. As a result, the NAGPRA team plans to initiate tribal consultations for NAGPRA ancestors beginning in the spring term. We hope to see the first repatriations of these ancestors to their proper resting places by the end of the calendar year.

Non-NAGPRA Update:

The first phase of the osteological analysis for non-NAGPRA human remains was completed in January. This included the documentation of every skeletal element within the collection. In addition, for each element the relevant pathology, trauma, and taphonomy were documented. The information gathered in the first phase will now be used as evidence to reassociate the elements of as many individuals as possible. The project's second phase is now underway and is expected to be finished in summer 2024.

The working group has defined three additional groups of non-NAGPRA remains within Dartmouth's care: 1) international individuals; 2) individuals with context; and 3) individuals with no context. Context is the relationship that a set of remains has to its surroundings. While some of the remains within Dartmouth's care have contextual information which can be used to understand where and what period the remains came from, others retain no context. This means that they will not be able to confidently be associated with a specific community or period. The group currently working to develop ethical frameworks for these remaining three groups and plans to engage with scholarly experts, community members, and relevant descendant communities.