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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 Nome Region of Alaska in the Collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Nome Eskimo Community

Documentation of remains and funerary objects from the Nome region was initiated in response to an official request from Mr. Andrew C. Miller, Jr., President of the Nome Eskimo Community, for the identification and return of any human remains and funerary objects from indigenous settlements associated with the Nome Eskimo Community. Examination of the relevant museum records and osteological analyses indicated that the NMNH houses the remains of an estimated 22 individuals represented by 20 catalog numbers. Two associated and five unassociated funerary objects represented by three catalog numbers in the collections of the NMNH have been identified as coming from the Nome region.
The evidence indicates that the remains and funerary objects date to the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The human remains of three individuals and one commingled skeletal element were acquired through surface collections made by Aleš Hrdlička of the U.S. National Museum (later NMNH) in 1926 at two unnamed historic sites on Cape Nome approximately 17 miles east of present-day Nome, Alaska. The human remains of 19 individuals and three commingled skeletal elements were collected by Henry B. Collins of the U.S. National Museum in 1928 at a historic burial site on Sledge Island approximately 25 miles off the coast of Nome. Collins also recovered seven funerary objects from burials there: two are associated funerary objects and five are unassociated funerary objects. Sledge Island and the villages of the Cape Nome district were depopulated after the 1918 influenza epidemic and the remaining survivors settled in the town of Nome.
Several lines of evidence support the cultural affiliation of these remains and funerary objects to the Nome Eskimo Community. These are: the historical record of local Inupiaq settlement, land use, and epidemics in the Cape Nome and Sledge Island region; the proximity of the burial sites to documented Inupiaq villages; and the taphonomic characteristics of the remains themselves. Taken together, these factors indicate a preponderance of evidence in support of this conclusion. Therefore, it is recommended that the remains of these 22 Native Alaskan individuals in 20 catalog numbers and seven funerary objects in three catalog numbers be made available for repatriation to the Nome Eskimo Community.

Repatriation Update
The human remains and funerary objects were repatriated to the Nome Eskimo Community in July of 2011.   

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