CONTACT: STEPHEN PRADARELLI
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: July 16, 1999
Summer Field School links archaeology, Native American
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The discovery three years ago of
9,000-year-old human remains in Washington state underscored a decades-old
split between American Indians and archaeologists.
A coalition of tribes has demanded that the remains
of the so-called Kennewick Man (named for the city where he was found) be
repatriated for burial. Archaeologists argue that the skeleton -- among the
oldest ever found in North America -- may represent a new branch of the human
race and should be studied further.
So far, the scientists have gotten their way and have
been taking measurements of the skull and bone fragments to determine whether
the skeleton has typical Native American characteristics. But Larry Zimmerman,
department executive officer of the American Indian and Native Studies Program
and a visiting professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa, says disputes
over how to treat Native American remains and artifacts will likely continue
unless scientists and tribal leaders can find common ground.
To that end, Zimmerman -- with the guidance and backing
of a national board made up of representatives from seven Native American
tribes -- is leading a six-week class this summer that combines archaeological
field methods with lessons on American Indian concerns about artifacts and
remains. The largely hands-on course, offered through the UIs Center
for Credit Programs in cooperation with the Tri-State Graduate Study Center
in Sioux City, began June 28 and runs through Aug. 6 at the Broken Kettle
West site in the Loess Hills in northwestern Iowa.
Using shovels, trowels and screens, 13 students from
Iowa and other states are slowly uncovering the vestiges of the people who
inhabited the area nearly 1,000 years ago. Theyre also meeting regularly
with Native American representatives to learn about their concerns, traditions
"It's totally unique. Theres nothing like it,"
Zimmerman said. "There has been a long-running concern on the part of Native
Americans regarding respectful treatment of Native American remains. After
an initial flurry of discussion, argument and rhetoric, a number of archaeologists
and Indians found some things in common."
The Broken Kettle West site dates to the Great Oasis
period (AD 1000-1150) and is believed by some archaeologists to be the ancestral
home of Siouan-speaking groups like the Mandan, a tribe now living in North
Dakota. While human remains are not believed to be buried there, the site
does contain artifacts of the former inhabitants' daily lives, including fragments
of hand-fired ceramic containers used for storage and cooking, simple stone
tools and the remains of plant foods grown at the time, particularly corn.
"This site is one of a handful known from the Great
Oasis period that contain rich and largely intact deposits," said John Doershuk,
director of the General Contracts Program in the Office of the State Archaeologist
in Iowa City and an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology and American
Indian and Native Studies.
Doershuk, one of the course's instructors, said the
dig is limited to a narrow strip of land measuring 60 to 70 feet that Plymouth
County officials are planning to pave as part of a road-straightening project.
Under state and federal law, land targeted for public development must be
assessed by archaeologists if it is suspected of containing artifacts or remains.
A large, privately owned bean field through which the new two-lane road will
run and where many other artifacts are believed buried will be mostly undisturbed.
The fate of the artifacts discovered by the class
is still up in the air. They may go to Plymouth County, which owns the right
of way, to the state or to a Native American group, which could decide to
display them in a museum or even rebury them elsewhere.
Zimmerman got the notion for the class last fall and
immediately began contacting members of various Native American groups throughout
the country to get their input. In October the group formed the Archaeological
Field Methods and American Indian Concerns Advisory Board, which "meets" via
email and is currently made up of representatives from the Inhanktonwan (Yankton
Sioux), Pawnee, Iowa, Lakota, Umatilla, Cherokee and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago)
tribes. All of the members are involved in some aspect of cultural preservation.
Dawn Makes Strong Move, an official with the Ho-Chunk
Nation in Wisconsin and a former undergraduate student of Zimmermans
when he taught at the University of South Dakota, says she agreed to serve
on the board because she appreciates what Zimmerman is trying to accomplish,
and because his concerns reflect her own.
"When I was going to high school and middle school,
theyd mention the Indian Wars, Crazy Horse and other things very briefly.
Yet people forgot that was part of American's history, and part of our history,"
Makes Strong Move said. "A field school like this is more relevant and addresses
the whole picture: the Native point of view, the archaeologists' point of
view, and how you synthesize both. And you don't lose anything in the process.
It's one of those things that should have been done a long time ago."
Makes Strong Move finds it ironic that Iowa, a state
that has a relatively small Native American population, is taking the lead
in forging stronger ties between archaeologists and tribes. But she said the
dialogue has to begin somewhere.
"One of the greatest differences is that most Native
American people don't know what archaeologists do," she said. "They think
they always deal with human remains. And most archaeologists, because they
always deal with the past, have not always made the connection between what
they do and the people living today. Just getting the dialogue going makes
for better comprehension between the two groups."
Before the course ends next month, Zimmerman said
the students will meet with the Iowa Indian Advisory Board and visit the Omaha
reservation to speak with tribal leaders.
"According to our board members, one of the things
about all this that's really important is that archaeologists understand that
Indians live in the contemporary world, not just the world of the past," Zimmerman
said. "So we try to get students to deal directly with Indian people, see
what they do and who they are."
Zimmerman said he'd like to teach more classes like
this in the future, and he'd like to involve many more tribes on the board.
He'd also like to see the approach to archaeology adopted nationwide.
"The crux of the whole matter is if archaeologists
are going to continue doing things like they've always done them, then they
and American Indians will always be at odds," he said. "If we can learn how
Indians process their own past, learn what's important to them, there will
be out of this -- if were successful at all -- a different kind of science,
one that honors and respects the cultures it's striving to understand."