Author Archives: mturner

“So, you dug it up and then you just reburied it?”

Last summer, I was involved in a small excavation in northern New Mexico for my dissertation project. When I give formal talks about our work, with lots of background information, people get excited about the research questions and how much we learned from just a month of work. At those times I feel like I’m making some progress as a public archaeologist, something that is very new to me. But in more casual conversations, it’s sometimes hard to get the excitement across. Folks are intrigued at first when I tell them we were excavating a thousand year old building that may have had as many as 100 rooms, but then I can see their interest dim a little as they realize how small our excavation actually was. It usually leads to two questions: First, “Are you going back next summer?”  Second, “Wait, so you just reburied it all at the end? Archaeologists understand that extensive, long-term excavations are neither necessary nor feasible in most places, that research funding is severely limited, that our labs are full of artifacts and samples that we may never have time to properly analyze, and that backfilling is the best way to preserve architecture and features. But that is [Read More]

NAGPRA After Kennewick Man

Last weekend, Congress passed legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to transfer the human remains of Kennewick Man, also known as the Ancient One, to Washington state authorities so they can repatriate him to claimant tribes in Washington State. Tucked into a 270-page bill called the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, Section 1152 requires transfer of the human remains within 90 days after the president signs it into law. Barring new developments, we seem to be nearing the end of a long saga. His remains were found 20 years ago, in 1996, and the litigation began the same year. It has been twelve years since the Ninth Circuit ended the lawsuit, ruling that Kennewick Man was not “Native American” within the meaning of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). (For those who aren’t familiar with the Kennewick Man case, visit my footnote[1] down below for an overview.) While some research still questions the cultural link to Native Americans, a 2015 article in Nature reported that his DNA is closer to local Washington tribes than to any other population, and as a result, last spring the Army Corps of Engineers began repatriation consultations. A senator from Washington [Read More]

When Archaeologists Teach the Law

When I left my job as an attorney to study archaeology, I assumed I was leaving the law behind. But one of the things that has surprised me most in my new life is just how much work archaeologists do in teaching the law. Time and again, in undergraduate seminars, at excavation sites, at museums, in field schools, at national parks, or online, I’ve watched archaeologists and anthropologists educating people about Section 106, NAGPRA, historic preservation law, the Antiquities Act, the legal history of Native American dispossession and public lands, or the finer points of Native American sovereignty. Many archaeologists seem uncomfortable with this role, though. If I’m around and they know my background they’ll sometimes look to me as if I might be able to chime in and clarify everything. The truth is that many professional archaeologists know much more about these areas of law than most lawyers do. My law practice mostly involved product liability and insurance law. When I started my PhD program, I could have told you all about the laws regulating dangerous products but almost nothing about any of the laws that surround archaeology. Only once in my legal career did I even have a [Read More]

Checks and Balances: The Legal Future for Archaeology and Archaeologists

If your Facebook feed as a fellow anthropologist is anything like mine, then you know the fear that has accompanied the election of the new president. My friends are expecting imminent deportations, registries, all of the worst possible scenarios. At a lower level of terror, my archaeologist friends are also fearing for their jobs and for our natural and archaeological resources. As a naturalized immigrant, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and the adoring aunt of two biracial toddlers, I am not immune to the nightmare scenarios, and I also fear for the future of archaeology. But I am also a lawyer by training, and my legal background colors my views. There are checks and balances in place, and they are not just formalities, and that is what I want to write about this week. I’m not a constitutional scholar, nor an expert on the laws surrounding archaeology, so this is necessarily a basic and general discussion. I’ll try to address the laws that surround archaeology but also the possibility of civil rights violations that are really keeping people awake at night right now. And in the hopes of including people who might have different political views, I’m going to put [Read More]