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

Inventory and Assessment of Possible Funerary Objects from Louisiana Potentially Affiliated with the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, in the Collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Insitution

Region: Southeast
Associated Cultures: Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, Jena Band of Choctaw, Choctaw

2011

This report provides an inventory and assessment of possible funerary objects from three sites in Louisiana in response to a repatriation request from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. 

Twenty-three objects in six catalog numbers were removed from the surface of a mound at the Nick Site, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, by Frank Setzler and James A. Ford. The objects date to the nineteenth century and were donated to the NMNH in 1934 by Setzler. Ford’s published report on the site notes that all of the historic objects were found in association with human bone. Subsequent excavation at the site and recovery of historic objects revealed that the historic period, late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, use of the mound was exclusively for burials. These historic period items in the NMNH collections were associated with the burials at the mound and were determined to be funerary objects. The historical record reveals political and familial ties between Choctaw communities on the Avoyelles Prairie and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. The archaeological and historical evidence indicates that the individuals buried during the historic period at the Nick Site are related to a community of Choctaw who lived on the Avoyelles Prairie together with the Tunica. Historical events led to this community having descendants in the federally-recognized Jena Band of Choctaw and in the federally-recognized Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. Cultural affiliation is determined to exist between the individuals buried during the nineteenth century at the Nick Site and the Jena Band of Choctaw and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. It is recommended that this material be made available jointly to these tribes for repatriation.

One hundred and ninety-one objects in 14 catalog numbers were removed from a grave in an unknown mound site near Mansura, Louisiana, by an unknown individual in the twentieth century and donated to the NMNH in 1926 through Gerard Fowke. Fowke noted that the collector identified the material as coming from a grave and stated that some arm bones were associated with some of the items. These funerary objects date to the eighteenth century. The location of the site is within the territory occupied during the eighteenth century only by tribes that became united through historical circumstances to become the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. Based on the location of the site, the analysis of the objects and the historical record for the Tunica-Biloxi, cultural affiliation is determined to exist with the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. It is recommended that this material be made available for repatriation to the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana.

Three objects in three catalog numbers were donated to the NMNH by Leon Desselle in 1933. These objects were reportedly excavated from his front yard near Marksville, Louisiana at an unknown date. Object tags generated by the museum and information in museum-generated catalogs describe these items as coming “from a grave.” There is no additional information to verify this assertion and it is likely that this description derives from the fact that a human mandible was sent to the museum by Desselle at the same time as the bowl and discoidal stones. A letter from Desselle that accompanied the material does not state that the bowl and discoidal stones were found in association with the mandible or that the objects came from a mortuary provenience. Therefore, the preponderance of the evidence does not support a conclusion that these are funerary objects and cultural affiliation was not assessed. The human mandible was never accessioned by the museum and does not appear to be in the collections.

In sum, 191 funerary objects from a site near Mansura, Louisiana, were evaluated for cultural affiliation. Archaeological, historical, and geographical evidence support a finding of cultural affiliation with the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. It is recommended that this material be made available for repatriation to the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. An additional 23 funerary objects from the Nick Site, south of Marksville, Louisiana, are found to be culturally affiliated with the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and with the Jena Band of Choctaw. It is recommended that these materials be made available for repatriation jointly to these tribes. Three objects from Leon Desselle’s home near Marksville, Louisiana, could not be determined to be funerary objects and were not evaluated for cultural affiliation. It is recommended that these objects be retained by the NMNH.

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