The Future is Bright

When I first declared my double major in Anthropology and Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, I knew I wanted to work with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) but I wasn’t quite sure how.

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As an undergrad about to graduate, the future can be uncertain. When I first declared my double major in Anthropology and Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, I knew I wanted to work with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) but I wasn’t quite sure how. Being an indigenous student, I had been frustrated that the NAGPRA inventory process can take so long, I wanted to see change and I was convinced that I would be one of the people to bring change to the legislation in the future. Until this semester everything I had learned about NAGPRA had been theoretical, I knew how the process worked but I had never seen anything outside of a classroom. I began interning at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History as a way to put my last 4 years to the test. I wanted to see if this was really what I wanted to do with my life. In a way, I was on a quest to right the wrongs of the past, to be the ideal Anthro/NAS student. While I still wish to continue work with NAGPRA I have learned that issues such as repatriation and NAGPRA inventory are not as clear cut as one would assume, and that a “great quest” is not the way in which to go about working towards change.

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Interns Ash Boydston and Emily Wagnon make a final check on the contents of an Archaeology collection box before re-shelving.

I have been humbled by my experience here at the Sam Noble. The first time I handled human remains, I had to take a moment to myself afterwards to fully comprehend the amount of responsibility I had to not only the tribe, but to the person this once was as well. I had an idea of what to expect from my classes, but lectures and study sessions cannot compare to the real thing. After being a part of the process, I now understand just why doing NAGPRA inventory can take so long. There is a diligence that must be adhered to. In order to ensure that the Sam Noble Museum is up to NAGPRA standards and is fostering the best environment possible for indigenous relations, each step of the process must be meticulous. In order to move forward in an ethically responsible way tribes must be consulted on how they wish for their ancestors remains to be handled, and the Sam Noble Museum must listen to these requests. Is it not the spirit of NAGPRA to form relationships based on mutual respect and trust?

 

NAGPRA was, and remains a victory for native peoples, but NAGPRA’s journey cannot be over just yet. There are still many things to be examined and re-worked. One issue in particular that has stuck out to me is that of “Culturally Unidentifiable” remains. In the article NAGPRA and the Problem of “Culturally Unidentifiable” Remains: The Argument for Human Rights Framework by Rebecca Tsosie, she discusses the historical and legal contexts surrounding “Culturally Unidentifiable” indigenous remains. She examines the “competing interests” of tribes and scientists when ancient remains are under debate. Much of the argument over “Culturally Unidentifiable” remains relies on the “existence of an identifiable earlier group”. The simple problem with identification through anyone other that the actual tribe, is that tribes have not always identified by the standards that the US government has set forth in the past 200-300 years. To many tribes these remains are not “Culturally Unidentifiable”, these remains are their ancestors. The use of a colonized system to determine who may belong to what people, and not allow the people to determine for themselves who is a member is continued colonization that was intended to be address with NAGPRA.

NAGPRA has done considerable good work and has served as a stepping stone in the right direction for building ethical relationships with tribal peoples, but like all legislation it is not without flaws and should be considered for amendments. We have seen many laws amended and given additions to make the understanding and jurisdiction more clear, and while NAGPRA has undergone amendments and changes, it is still not as all encompassing as one would hope. We are fast approaching the 30 year anniversary of NAGPRA, and I feel it is time to re-examine NAGPRA’s reaches and consider ways in which to make certain details of the legislation involving “Culturally Unidentifiable” remains more clear in order to ensure the best protections and protocols are in place.

Author: Ash Boydston

Legacy Collections in Archaeology

For the spring semester of 2017 I had the pleasure and the privilege of interning in the Sam Noble Museum’s Archaeology Department.  During my time at the museum, I was tasked with working with legacy collections and bringing them up to museum standards, which meant assessing, cataloging, accessioning, labeling, revitalizing, and shelving these collections.  I was also tasked with writing an Internship Agreement and Intern Evaluation for future internships at the museum.

I worked with several collections but there were two big ones that I completed from start to finish: the A/2016/4 ODOT collection, and the A/2008/013 Dean Gamel Research Collection.  The ODOT collection was from a historic site in Greer County Oklahoma, and contained many glass bottles, historic ceramics, and metal tools/parts.  I took the entire collection from the acquisition stage to the shelving stage of the collection process with no major issues at all.  The Dean Gamel Collection, however, was trouble from the start.  It started off as 5 pottery sherds that were used for micro-analysis, and then the collection exploded, and it turned out that there were over 150 pottery sherds, roughly 200 faunal remains (106 of which were modified), 12 pieces of shell, 11 obsidian flakes, a bison skull, and a human phalange.  I had to take this collection through the entire collection process, as well as clean and label the artifacts and make a tray out of archival cardboard for the bison skull.  It was a learning experience.
Overall the internship was a blast and I would love to do it again, and maybe even try for a career in some aspect of museum work.

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Author: Trevor Dumolt

 

 

 

 

Connecting Interests

Discovering what you want to be when you grow up and taking steps to achieve that goal can take a lot of hard work, but it can also take a lot of creative and flexible thinking. For me, the hardest work has not come from the essays and exams encountered in the classroom, but in connecting my interests to future career opportunities.

Right after high school, I attended Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma where I participated in every activity that caught my interest including art club, beauty pageants, and even performing on a Carnival Cruise line with the college show-choir. I changed majors several times—art, music, business, Spanish, art again—and eventually realized that narrowing down my interests was going to be difficult. I didn’t know how I was going to gear any of them toward a career path. I finally graduated with an Associate’s degree in Art and decided to take a break from school to test my interests in the workforce.

Through an ad seeking “artistic individuals” I was hired full-time to articulate skeletons for Skulls Unlimited International and the Museum of Osteology. The knowledge and skills I had developed in art classes turned into museum exhibits filled with skeletal creatures that I constructed. On evenings and weekends, I worked a part-time job teaching painting classes at Wine and Palette events in Oklahoma City. I drew heavily on my past experiences in performance as well as on my painting skills to provide entertaining and informative events to people of all ages.

The most valuable thing during that time was realizing that I was able to incorporate my broad set of skills into professional situations. I also realized that I loved working in museums, and that I wanted to turn that into a career. I made the difficult decision to leave my skeleton-building and painting behind so I could find a job that would better allow me to go back to school. My experience with skeletons was enough to get a job supervising an anatomy lab, and I enrolled at Arizona State University online to finish my Bachelor’s degree.

In order to develop an education more suited to museum work and to incorporate some osteology, I decided to major in Art History with a minor in Anthropology. Since my new job was not at a museum, I kept myself plugged into the industry by volunteering at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History where there was an opportunity in the Archaeology department. Three months into it, that volunteer opportunity became an internship to work with human remains projects related to the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Gaining an internship at SNOMNH was a really important step for me. It was the first time that I had seen my diverse array of interests come together as something that had the potential to be developed into a career. I was able to meet and interact with a variety of people in different areas of the museum and learn about these different careers. Working in the museum has offered me insight into future opportunities and showed me that narrowing interests isn’t nearly as important as connecting them.

Author: Keri Smith

Greetings, and Happy Spring from Norman!

The Archaeology Department at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has had an exciting spring! Work is moving along at a satisfying pace on some projects which have been a long time coming…and what better way to reward a job (currently being) well done than to bring in all new, upgraded work stations to the fifth floor? Staff and volunteers, alike, are celebrating the installation of an expansive desk that considerably increases the available work space and provides much-needed storage in an area that previously only featured a few folding tables. In addition, those folding tables were moved to the common area where volunteers and interns do a lot of their work, replacing some smaller tables and giving everyone a little elbow room. More space means more collections assessed, analyzed, and revitalized, so we couldn’t be happier!

Here are some photos of “moving day,” in preparation for the arrival of the work stations. As you can see, everyone pitched in to clear the way for progress. Who needs brawn when you have anthropologists?

Author: Mary Brinkley

Archiving and Assessing the Bureau of Reclamation Collections

As populations grew in the western US in the early 1900s, there was a greater need for water and effective tools to manage the water supply. The Bureau of Reclamation was created in 1902 to construct Lake Thunderbird, the Tom Steed Reservoir, Lake Altus, Lake of the Arbuckles, and Foss Lake in Oklahoma. These lakes and other state parks now host over a million visitors each year, but were once occupied by Native American people and include archaeological remains attesting to these earlier occupations. For more information on the Bureau’s history, visit http://www.usbr.gov/history/borhist.html.

The Bureau has worked for decades with many kinds of professional and amateur archaeologists, including people from the Oklahoma Anthropological Society (check out their new website at http://www.okathropologicalsociety.org), responsible collectors, field school directors, and archaeologists from the WPA. The Bureau attempts to reassemble collections of artifacts that were long ago found on lands that have since been rezoned as federal property. The Sam Noble Museum (http://samnoblemuseum.ou.edu) has had an agreement with the Bureau since 2006 to house and curate many of the collections recovered from these areas.

This year, the Bureau is funding a Graduate Research Assistant to archive documents associated with these collections. Because some of these artifacts were collected nearly a century ago, a few of the field notes are now old enough to be considered artifacts themselves! They require careful handling and storage, and proper archival methods will ensure that they last for many centuries to come.

The kinds of documents encountered in the collections include photographs, letters of correspondence, oversized maps, excavation records, field diaries, and contracts for archaeological work. When preparing these for storage, we need to make sure that they are housed in a safe, cool, dry place, and are on conservation-grade acid-free paper that will not deteriorate and turn yellow over time. All staples get removed, and then most of the documents are scanned into a searchable database. This new database will allow researchers to immediately access all of the notes associated with each site. Having consistent systems of organization and preservation allow us to quickly find what we’re looking for, while also ensuring that the information is available for future researchers.

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Using archived notes to assess a collection from Lake Altus

For the rest of this year, the museum will work with the Bureau to physically inventory the artifacts and store them in new bags with proper artifact identification tags. Being able to look back at field notes from decades past has been very helpful in matching the artifacts to their catalog descriptions and ensuring that each piece gets stored with other artifacts from the same site.

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Bone awls and stone projectile points collected from the Lake Altus region in the 1950s

Collections from the Bureau of Reclamation

The Bureau of Reclamation was created on June 17, 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt for water development projects in the arid climate of the West. In Oklahoma, the Bureau constructed the Norman Dam in 1965 and managed other water resources on public land for municipal and industrial use, supplying water for cities and managing flood control. For instance, Lake Thunderbird State Park and other state parks host over a million visitors each year.
The Bureau is also responsible for collecting any cultural artifacts found on federal lands around lakes and dams. The Sam Noble Museum has had an agreement with the Bureau since 2006, to house and curate collections recovered from these areas. While some collections are recent, others were excavated in the early 1900s. Many of these artifacts have been donated by the Oklahoma Anthropological Society, private collectors, and managers from WPA projects in the 1930s.
This year, the Bureau funded two student Collections Assistants to enter the catalog into the collections database for 46 collections, to make the artifacts easier to identify and find. In two months, they created 3,094 catalog entries containing 38,557 artifacts that belong to the Bureau. In the future, the museum will work with the Bureau to physically inventory the artifacts against these catalogs and stabilize them with archival materials, ensuring that future archaeologists and the public will have access to these cultural resources for many years to come.

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Sarah Luthman and Samantha Hayes, cataloging collections for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Most of the sites on these federal lands are prehistoric, and include artifacts made by Native Americans from various time periods. Because so many items are recovered on the surface by private collectors, it is often difficult to determine an exact date or the associated cultural group. Examples of artifacts within the Bureau’s collections are tools (see below), including a bone awl, a stone drill, a boatstone, and five projectile point of various sizes and made from different types of stone.

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These artifacts were found in Kiowa County, and are from one of the Elmer Craft Collections (A/2008/002), donated to the museum in the 1950s.

Fort Sill Part I: An Invitation

In 2014, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH) began a project to curate a large archaeological collection from Fort Sill in Comanche County, Oklahoma. This collection represents the results of the last forty years of archaeological survey and excavation on the Fort Sill Military Reservation. Artifacts in the collection range from ancient stone tools to twentieth century bottles and cans. These artifacts reveal the history of Comanche County and Fort Sill in a way that written words alone cannot. As a material record of the everyday lives of people who occupied this land, both Native Americans and later Euro-American settlers, this collection tells a story that is in many ways the story of Oklahoma. Through a series of upcoming posts on the Sam Noble Archaeology Department Blog, we invite you to learn more about that story.

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Late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century artifacts from Fort Sill