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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains on St. Lawrence Island, Bering Straits, Alaska in the National Museum of Natural History

Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: 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 an inventory and records-based assessment of the cultural affiliation of human remains in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from sites on St. Lawrence Island (SLI), Bering Straits, Alaska. This inventory was undertaken in response to a general request from the Bering Straits Foundation submitted in 1993 by Mr. Matt Ganley, Staff Archaeologist, Bering Straits Native Corporation, for the return of culturally affiliated remains from any communities affiliated with the Corporation such as those on St. Lawrence Island. In August 1994 Ms. Vera Metcalf, Repatriation Coordinator, Bering Straits Foundation, took over repatriation responsibilities for the Corporation. Additionally, independent claims from the IRA Council presidents at Gambell and Savoonga were received by NMNH in February of 1997. The St. Lawrence Island report is one of a series of separate reports responding to individual requests from communities or groups of communities within the Bering Straits Corporation. This report addresses the returns of skeletal remains requested by the villages of Gambell and Savoonga only.

This report documents the 766 catalogued sets of human remains found in the NMNH Master Catalog Database form St. Lawrence Island. These catalog numbers represent a minimum of 810 individuals. During the repatriation inventory, 743 catalogued sets of human remains were located in the physical anthropology collections of the Department of Anthropology, NMNH. The missing human remains could not be located in the Museum. Any human remains from St. Lawrence Island which may be found in the future will be repatriated to the appropriate community. The human remains come form settlements in four general localities: Gambell, Kukulek (also Kukulik), Kiyalighaq (also Kialegak), and Punuk Island. Gambell and Kukulek are on the north side of the island, Kiyalighaq and Cape Kiyalighaq are located on Southeast Cape; Punuk Island lies offshore Apavawook Cape, across a narrow channel. Dates of the settlements associated with the burial suggest that the majority of these remains date to post-European contact during the 18th and 19th centuries. A small number of remains are identified with the earliest occupation of the island, ca. A.D. 100.

The recent history of St. Lawrence Island indicates that survivors from earlier communities all over the island congregated at Gambell, and later at Savoonga, following the great famine of 1879. These numbers were subsequently augmented by migration to St. Lawrence of Siberian Yu'pik families from mainland communities on the Chukotka peninsula. Siberian Yu'pik communities are socially, culturally, and linguistically closely affiliated with communities on St. Lawrence Island. Both of the communities making the repatriation claims (Village of Gambell and Village of Savoonga, SLI) are composed of descendants of inhabitants of Siberian Yu'pik communities on the Island and on the Siberian mainland. A review of the history of the region and available site records indicated that cultural affiliation exists between the skeletal remains from St. Lawrence Island at the NMNH and the present-day Native communities on the Island requesting repatriation. It was, therefore, recommended that these remains be offered for repatriation jointly to the two communities of Gambell and Savoonga.

Repatriation Update
These remains were deaccessioned for repatriation on May 15, 1997.

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