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Native American human remains in UK collections: implications of NAGPRA to consultation, repatriation, and policy development

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Myra GiesenORCiD



The past 30 years has witnessed a dramatic shift in attitudes towards excavating (pre)historic cemeteries, the study of human remains, and the retention of remains in formal collections as well as their placement on public display. However, legislation and policy on their treatment varies dramatically, especially across international boundaries. For example, in 2004 the Human Tissue Act, ,the British parliament passed which enabled nine national museums the discretionary power to deaccession human remains under 1000 years old. The Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums was then published the following year as a ‘best practice’ document to aid institutions in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland by providing a legal and ethical framework for the treatment of human remains. Despite these efforts, most repatriation claims in England are not domestic, but are actually related to human remains from overseas. In this case, the Guidance advises that institutions become aware of relevant foreign legislation, especially as it relates to local policy and claimants’ expectations. Greater awareness is particularly critical with Native American human remains in the United States, which are broadly governed by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA, Public Law 101-601), a law that is both complicated and quite different from other countries. The goal of this paper is to inform UK institutions on NAGPRA terms and concepts, expectations among Native Americans, and available support resources. The paper will then provide recommendations on how to work within NAGPRA so that consultations on Native American human remains will be most fruitful.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Giesen MJ

Editor(s): Lewis, M.E., Clegg, M.

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Ninth Annual Conference of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology

Year of Conference: 2009

Pages: 123-130

Date deposited: 30/03/2010

Publisher: Archaopress

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781407304014