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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Inventory and Documentation of Skeletal Remains from the Prince William Sound in the Physical Anthropology Collections of the Department of Anthropology, NMNH

Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Chugach, Eyak, Yu'pik, Alutiiq, Chugach Regional Corporation

This report evaluated skeletal remains from the Prince William Sound (PWS), Alaska in the physical anthropology collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution for repatriation under the National Museum of the American Indian Act (Public Law 101-185). It provided a summary of documentation for human remains which unverified NMNH records indicated as originating in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska. These records included unverified cultural affiliations of "Indian," "Eskimo" and, "Chugach" for the remains from this region. This document served as the basis for a reevaluation of those records and a determination of the origin and cultural affiliation of the remains in accordance with the law. The remains were grouped into categories reflecting the quality of evidence available for their identification and recommendations were made for the disposition of those remains believed to be culturally affiliated with the contemporary Native inhabitants of the Sound.

The Prince William Sound skeletal assessment was initiated in response to a request for the return of Chugach human remains and funerary objects by the Chugach Alaska Native Corporation in 1989. Through an agreement with Mr. John Johnson, Cultural Resource Manager for the Chugach Alaska Corporation, final disposition of Chugach funerary and sacred objects held by the NMNH was postponed until the return of the skeletal remains had been completed. Skeletal remains and artifacts were removed from the Sound and brought to the Smithsonian Institution beginning with the activities of the Alaska Commercial Corporation in the 1870's. Various individuals donated skeletal remains from the Prince William Sound during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and collecting activities culminated in the late 1930's with the work of Ales Hrdlicka and an associate from Cordova in the eastern portion of the Sound. Provenience information for all of the remains at the NMNH was uniformly poor and in most cases the records stated only that the remains originated in Prince William Sound.

A complete review of records associated with the remains and a thorough physical examination of them revealed that they fell into one of three categories of cultural affiliation:

1) "Probable Pacific Eskimo and/or southeast Alaska Athabaskan"--This group represented the lowest level of specificity and contained remains that lacked any precise locational information on which to base an assessment of cultural affiliation. In two cases a small amount of circumstantial evidence was marshalled to make a tentative judgement.

2) "Possibly Chugach (or Eyak), probably Pacific Eskimo and/or southeast Alaska Athabaskan"--This group was the largest and contained seven sets of remains (SI #'s 225038, 225039, 225040, 332020, 339756, 339757, [all Chugach] and, 379354 [Eyak]). This category contained remains for which there is a least one additional datum (either mortuary-related, locational, or physical anthropological evidence) suggesting that the remains could be grouped with the historic Chugach (or Eyak) residents of the Sound.

3) "Probable Chugach (or Eyak)"--This group contained four sets of remains (SI #'s 262170, 262170a, 262171 [Chugach] and, 363604 [Eyak]). This category represented those remains for which relatively good locational and contextual evidence existed testifying to the origins and cultural affiliation of the skeletal remains in question.

Documentation by the Repatriation Office suggested that the remains from all three of these groups (13 recorded, two of which are missing for a total of 11 sets) be offered to the Chugach Alaska Corporation and its constituent Chugach or Eyak Village Corporation members for repatriation. The probability was high that all of the remains were those of the most numerous, widespread and permanent long-term residents of the Sound (Chugach and Eyak). In addition, it was clear that the observed or suspected burial practices related to these remains correspond well with long-term patterns for the Prince William Sound and were thus arguably related to its long-term residents. The physical anthropological data in no way contradicted a Chugach or Eyak affiliation for the remains. Finally, all of the evidence examined suggested a late prehistoric or historic date for the burials during which time a Chugach ethnic presence in the Prince William Sound was already long established. The two Eyak attributions were warranted on the basis of locational and contextual evidence similar to those for the Chugach outlined above.

Repatriation Update
The Chugach Alaska Corporation represents both Chugach and Eyak residents of the Prince William Sound today and as such represented the most appropriate authority to which to offer Chugach and Eyak ancestral remains for return under PL 101-185.

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