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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Native American Human Remains
from the Western Great Basin, Nevada Sector, in the National Museum of Natural History

Region: Great Basin
Associated Cultures: Bannock, Paiute, Shoshone, Washoe

This is the first of two reports that will document the human remains in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from the Great Basin region. This report focuses on the western half of the Great Basin, providing an inventory and assessment of the skeletal remains in the museum from the region circumscribed by the modern political boundaries of the state of Nevada. Documentation of the human remains from the western Great Basin was initiated in November 1991 in response to an earlier request from the Pyramid Lake Paiute of northwestern Nevada for the return of any historic Paiute skeletal remains and associated artifacts from their territory. In addition to the Pyramid Lake Paiute, other native peoples potentially affected by the findings of this report include other sub-groups of the Northern Paiute, the Shoshone, the Bannock, and the Southern Paiute.

A total of 56 sets of remains in the Physical Anthropology division of the NMNH were identified as having come from the western half of the Great Basin, which is defined for purposes of this report as the state of Nevada. Forty of these skeletal lots were determined to date to the historic period, while 16 sets of remains are prehistoric in origin. In compliance with Public Law 101-185, these remains were evaluated in terms of their probable cultural affiliation.

Accession No. 64504 is believed to include the remains of a Shoshone Indian family that was tracked down and killed by a sheriff's posse in 1911 in north central Nevada. This museum accession lot contains 37 individually catalogued sets of remains. The skeletal elements represent a minimum of ten separate individuals. They include the partial remains of three adults males, two adult females, two adolescent males, and three children. Evidence of copper staining, associated metal fragments, and bits of adhered cotton fabric leave no doubt that these remains date to the historic period.

Several lines of evidence support the assumption that this set of remains represents Shoshone Mike and his family as stated in the original accession records: 1) the demographic composition of the group in the museum corresponds closely, though not precisely, to historic accounts of Shoshone Mike's family; 2) the remains are provenienced to the approximate locality of the massacre and were believed by the donor, a local rancher, to represent the victims of this incident; and 3) one of the women in the collection has lead fragments embedded in her mandible, suggesting gunfire as the likely cause of death.

Historic information indicates that Shoshone Mike was originally affiliated with the Fort Hall Indian tribe in southwestern Idaho. In compliance with Public Law 101-185, it was recommended that this tribal group be notified that the NMNH has in its possession the remains of Shoshone Mike and his family and that they be consulted about the disposition of these remains.

Accession No. 33553 was acquired from the Army Medical Museum in 1907. This accession includes ten separate skulls identified as having come from the state of Nevada. Three of these crania are accompanied by detailed provenience information and area securely identified as Paiute in the museum records. It was recommended that the tribal councils at the Ft. McDermitt, Duck Valley, and Walker River Reservations be notified of their presence in the museum and consulted about their wishes regarding the disposition of these remains.

The remaining seven individuals in Accession No. 33553 have neither secure provenience information nor cultural identities. Based on the travel itinerary of the collector, Stephen Powers, and the original bills of lading, it is fairly certain that these remains were collected in the state of Nevada, though they could potentially be affiliated with either Paiute or Washoe Indians. Following statutory procedures outlined in P.L. 101-601 (Section 5.d.2.C), it was recommended that all of the tribal councils of reservations in western Nevada be informed that the NMNH has a set of remains of unknown origin that may potentially be culturally affiliated with their group.

Accession Nos. 122648 and 129607 constitute archaeological collections that were donated to the museum in the 1930s by Robert Heizer. The first lot contains one mandible that was surface collected by Heizer in the Humboldt Sink area of Nevada. The second lot includes five sets of skeletal remains excavated from the Pitt Mound site near Lovelock, Nevada and one set of commingled remains that were surface collected from the Humboldt Sink area. Based on the condition of the bones, contextual information, and associated cultural materials, the remains can be generally ascribed to the prehistoric period, and may possibly date to the Early or Middle Archaic period (3000 B.C. - A.D. 500). Given the time depth associated with these remains, their cultural identity cannot be specified beyond the very general level of Uto-Aztecan. As they cannot be clearly identified as culturally affiliated with any modern population, these remains are not subject to repatriation at the present time.

The remaining two museum accessions from the Western Great Basin region, Nos. 252465 and 348296, were found in secondary contexts by Nevada state authorities. They came into the possession of the museum via the FBI after forensic agents determined that they were likely the remains of prehistoric native peoples. The presence of slight cranial deformation resulting from cradle-board use, the condition of the bones, and the flexed burial position ascribed to one of the individuals indicate that the remains are likely to be prehistoric in origin, though their exact age in indeterminable. As in the case of the above, the cultural identify of these two individuals cannot be specified beyond the general level of Uto-Aztecan. Since they cannot be clearly identified as culturally affiliated with any modern native population, these remains are not subject to repatriation at the present time.

Repatriation Update
The remains of the ten individuals identified as Shoshone Mike's family were repatriated to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall, Idaho on July 11, 1994. The remains of one individual from accession 348296 were later found to be culturally affiliated to the Yerington Paiute Tribe and was repatriated to the Yerington Paiute Tribe on July 27, 1995..

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