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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary


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

Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Native Village of Unga

2013
Documentation of the human remains and funerary objects potentially affiliated with the Native Village of Unga, Alaska, was initiated in response to two independent requests from Native Village of Unga President John A. Foster and Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association President Dmitri Philemonof for the repatriation of human remains and funerary objects from Unga. Examination of the relevant museum records indicated that the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) housed 16 human remains and 757 funerary objects dating to the seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries. A funerary object collected from a burial cave near the village of Unga, Alaska, in 1868 by Captain Charles Riedell was presented to the U.S. National Museum (later NMNH). The human remains of one individual and an associated funerary object were collected from the same burial cave in 1868 by Dr. Thomas T. Minor and later presented to the U.S. National Museum. The human remains of an estimated 15 individuals and 756 funerary objects were acquired from cave burials near the village of Unga, Alaska, in 1872 and 1873 by William Healey Dall of the U.S. National Museum.

Several lines of evidence support the cultural affiliation of the human remains and funerary objects to the Native Village of Unga. These include the historic record of local Unangan (Aleut) settlement and land use at Unga, Alaska; the historic record of Unangan (Aleut) mortuary customs; the proximity of historic funerary cave sites to the village of Unga; NMNH accession and collection records; unpublished field notes from the original collector; and the taphonomic characteristics of the remains themselves. Taken together, this information constitutes a preponderance of evidence in support of the conclusion that the remains and funerary objects dating to the late prehistoric or early historic periods are culturally affiliated with the Native Village of Unga. Therefore, it is recommended that the human remains of an estimated 16 indigenous Alaskan individuals in 15 catalog numbers and 757 funerary objects in 85 catalog numbers be made available for repatriation to the Native Village of Unga.

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Smithsonian Institute - National Mueseum of Natural History