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

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains and Funerary Objects Requested for Repatriation by the Stockbridge-Munsee Band and Delaware Nation in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Region: Northeast
Cultural Affiliation: Delaware, Munsee

2008

In compliance with Public Law 101-185, the National Museum of the American Indian Act, this report provides an inventory and assessment of the human remains and funerary objects in the possession or control of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) potentially affiliated with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians and the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma.

The report documents the remains of 60 individuals represented by 60 catalog numbers and two objects represented by two catalog numbers in the collections of the NMNH.   The remains of 59 individuals and one object are present in the NMNH collections from the Bell-Philhower or Minisink site in the Delaware Water Gap region of Sussex County, New Jersey.  The site is also known as the Burson-Bell site, the Bell Farm site, the Minisink Cemetery site, or the Munsee Cemetery site.  The remains were removed from the site by a crew led by George G. Heye and George H. Pepper of the Museum of the American Indian during the summer of 1914.  The remains were then sent to the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum, now the NMNH, by George Heye on August 3, 1914.

George G. Heye published an article describing the excavation of the Bell-Philhower site and the historical evidence of the site’s affiliation with the Munsee (Heye and Pepper 1915).  In it, he asserted that based on “the foregoing historical data it is evident that the burial place excavated by the Museum of the American Indian belonged to the Munsee” (Heye and Pepper 1915:15).  Archaeological and historical evidence supports the interpretation that the burials from the site date to the late 1600s or early 1700s.  The preponderance of the evidence shows that the individuals were all Munsee.  The descendants of the Munsee are represented today by the federally recognized Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.  It is recommended that the remains of these 59 Munsee individuals and one associated funerary object be offered for return to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

In addition to these individuals, remains of one unknown individual are present in the NMNH collections from Delaware River Flats near Delaware Water Gap, Monroe County, in eastern Pennsylvania.  The remains washed out of the bank of the Delaware River and were removed from the site by S. W. Knipe.  Knipe sent the remains to the U.S. National Museum in 1889 along with other artifacts from the site.  The archaeological site from which these remains most likely originated, 36MR16, has both Archaic and unknown Woodland period components.  Projectile points dating to the Late Archaic period, ca. 1800 B.C., were found by Knipe at the same location, although there is no evidence to suggest that they were placed with the remains as funerary objects.  The preponderance of the evidence indicates the remains date to the Late Archaic time period and would have belonged to an unidentified earlier group.  While cultural affiliation between Late Woodland period individuals in this region have been broadly accepted by archaeologists and Native American representatives as culturally affiliated with the descendants of the Munsee tribe, no cultural affiliation is recognized with Late Archaic period groups.  Therefore, it is recommended that the remains of this individual be retained by the National Museum of Natural History.

A single unassociated funerary object is present in the NMNH collections, possibly from the Davenport site in Sussex County, New Jersey, across from Milford, Pennsylvania.  The object, a long pewter pipe with two owls standing on the bowl of the pipe, had been removed from a grave of an individual associated with projectile points and a copper bracelet.  The pipe is of a type dating to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.  At that time, the Munsee tribe inhabited this region and the preponderance of the evidence indicates this grave and the object were affiliated with the Munsee tribe.  The descendants of the Munsee are represented today by the federally recognized Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.  Because this unassociated funerary object is culturally affiliated by a preponderance of the evidence to the claimant tribes, it is recommended that this object be offered for return to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Repatriation Update
The 59 remains and two funerary objects were repatriated jointly to the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe of Mohican Indians, Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma, and Delaware Nation of Oklahoma on September 16, 2009.  By the time of this repatriation, the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma had regained federal recognition so the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma was no longer considered culturally affiliated as representing that group of Delaware.

The repatriation was carried out at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania and was conducted in conjunction with repatriations from the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Park Service.

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