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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains from Cape Denbigh, Bering Straits Native Corporation, Alaska in the National Museum of Natural History

Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Athapaskan, Yu'pik, Bering Straits Regional Corporation

In compliance with the repatriation provisions of Public Law 101-185 (20 U.S.C. Section 80q), the National Museum of the American Indian Act, this report provides a partial inventory and assessment of the cultural affiliation of the human remains and funerary objects in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from within the territorial boundaries of Native communities associated with the Bering Strait Native Corporation. This is the third of a series of reports and pertains specifically to remains from the geographical region of Cape Denbigh, Alaska in eastern Norton Sound.

Mr. Simon Bekoalok, Jr., President of the Shaktoolik IRA Council put forward a repatriation claim for return of remains from the region of Shaktoolik on November 15, 1997. Remains of a minimum of 11 individuals, represented by 10 catalog numbers, in the Physical Anthropology division of the NMNH were identified as having come from this area. No funerary objects from the burials were identified.

The human remains in the NMNH Department of Anthropology claimed by Shaktoolik were found on the southwestern shore of Cape Denbigh, in eastern Norton Sound. They are most likely to be recent in origin. One set of remains was covered by a relatively intact walrus hide. Nukleet, which is located on the southeastern side of the cape, was the closest settlement to the burials on Cape Denbigh. Investigation of Nukleet suggests that the community was largely abandoned after about 1700, as no objects of Euroamerican origin were found in the excavations. Late 18th and early 19th century Euroamericans, however, record that the southern cape was inhabited during this time period.

Linguistic history and ethnohistoric accounts indicates that during the time of occupation Nukleet was almost certainly a Yupik community. Eastern Norton Sound, however, saw significant seasonal and permanent migration of Inupiat speakers, who were middlemen in trade between Yupik and Siberian groups. Inupiat speakers moved into the region from the west and the north in the 1800s.

The remains documented here, although thought to be relatively recent, cannot be specifically dated, and may have come from either Yupik or Inupiat communities. Shaktoolik, the nearest extant Native community to Cape Denbigh, is composed of people with both Yupik and Inupiat ancestry and therefore, the recommendation of the Repatriation Office was that the human remains in the NMNH found on Cape Denbigh be offered for return to the Native community of Shaktoolik.

Repatriation Update
These remains were deaccessioned and repatriated to the Native Village of Shaktoolik, Alaska on May 12, 1999.

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