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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary
Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains and Funerary Objects Potentially Affiliated with the Ponca in the National Museum of Natural History
Region: Plains
Associated Cultures: Ponca

1997
An inventory and assessment of the human remains and funerary objects potentially affiliated with the Ponca in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution (SI) was initiated in response to a February 24, 1994 request from Chairwoman Deborah Wright of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.

This report documents the remains of 30 individuals in 31 catalog numbers and 50 funerary objects contained in 13 catalog numbers in the collections at the NMNH. All human remains evaluated for affiliation in this report are from individuals who died in the nineteenth century and were collected from cemeteries by army surgeons between 1869 and 1871. One individual has both Native American and European heritage, but the preponderance of evidence indicates that the individual was culturally Ponca. A review of the available evidence presented in this report indicates that all of the remains are culturally affiliated with the Ponca.

In addition to the 30 individuals at the NMNH assessed in this report, a summary of the archival records associated with one individual in the collections of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology - National Museum of Health and Medicine (AFIP-NMHM, formerly the Army Medical Museum ) is included in an appendix. The remains of this individual were obtained by the same collector from the same location as some of the remains at the NMNH.

The human remains and funerary objects documented here were originally sent to the Army Medical Museum (AMM, now AFIP-NMHM) between 1869 and 1871 and were identified as Ponca. They were later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1898 and 1904. The remains of eight individuals and several funerary objects collected from Ponca graves near the old Ponca Agency near the Niobrara River in northeastern Nebraska, were sent to the AMM by Assistant Army Surgeon G.P. Hachenberg in 1869. Seven of the eight sets of remains were later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution; the eighth set is held at the AFIP-NMNH. In 1870 and 1871, Assistant Army Surgeon G.N. Hopkins sent 17 sets of human remains and several funerary objects that he identified as Ponca to the AMM in two separate shipments. Hopkins mailed eight of the 17 remains from the old Ponca Agency, but did not report where the remains were collected. Hopkins reported the second set of nine remains were from the old Ponca Agency. All 17 sets of human remains and one metal ax funerary object were later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. In 1871, Assistant Army Surgeon A.I. Comfort sent seven sets of human remains and several funerary objects to the AMM. Comfort does not report the location where he obtained the remains, but identified them as Ponca. Six of the seven sets of human remains and 49 funerary objects were later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. The seventh set of human remains was transferred from the AMM to Germany in 1877. The funerary objects attributed to Comfort are a horn spoon, a cupping horn, a headdress, a bone whistle, a bone painter, a paint bag, a cloth bag, a pair of moccasins, a fragment of a beaded object, eight metal dangles, and 30 shell beads. All of the human remains were identified as Ponca by Hachenberg, Hopkins, and Comfort.

The preponderance of evidence indicates that all 30 remains are culturally affiliated with the Ponca. The funerary objects cannot be associated with particular individuals and are unassociated funerary objects. The report recommended that the remains of 30 individuals in 31 catalog numbers and 50 funerary objects in 13 catalog numbers be offered for repatriation to the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma.

Repatriation Update
The human remains and funerary objects were repatriated to the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma on September 24, 1998.

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