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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains and Funerary Objects from Shishmaref, Alaska, in the Collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Native Village of Shishmaref

2011
Documentation of human remains potentially affiliated with the Native Village of Shishmaref was initiated in response to a request from Mr. Matt Ganley, Staff Archaeologist of the Bering Straits Foundation (BSF) and Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC) in Nome, Alaska, for the repatriation of culturally affiliated human remains from the Native Village of Shishmaref and several other Native Alaskan communities of the Bering Strait region. Examination of the relevant museum records indicated that the NMNH houses the remains of an estimated 48 individuals represented by 50 catalog numbers, five funerary objects in two catalog numbers, and one non-statutory object in one catalog number from the Shishmaref region.

The evidence indicates that the remains, funerary objects, and non-statutory object date to the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The human remains of an estimated 27 individuals were acquired at gravesites by Aleš Hrdlička of the U.S. National Museum (later NMNH) on July 27, 1926, from historic burials at the old village site of Shishmaref and also in the vicinity of the current village site of Shishmaref. Skeletal remains on nine individuals and five funerary objects were incorporated into the collections of the U. S. National Museum through a 1927 gift from George Goshaw, who disinterred the remains and objects from the old village site of Shishmaref and part of its cemetery. Archaeologist Henry B. Collins on the U.S. National Museum collected an estimated 12 human remains at historic burials sites at the old village site of Shishmaref on July 22, 1929.  

Several lines of evidence support the cultural affiliation of the human remains, funerary objects, and non-statutory object to the Native Village of Shishmaref. These include the historic record of local Inupiaq (Qikiqaamiut) settlement and land use at Shishmaref, Alaska, the historic record of Inupiaq (Qikiqaamiut)  mortuary customs, the proximity of historic burial sites to the contemporary village of Shishmaref, oral historical accounts of former settlement and burial sites, and the taphonomic characteristics of the remains themselves. Taken together, this information constitutes a preponderance of evidence in support of the conclusion that the human remains, funerary objects, and non-statutory object are culturally affiliated with the Native Village of Shishmaref. Therefore, it is recommended that the remains of an estimated 48 indigenous Alaskan individuals in 50 catalog numbers, five funerary objects in two catalog numbers, and one non-statutory object in one catalog number be made available for repatriation to the Native Village of Shishmaref.

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