Region: Northwest Coast
Associated Cultures: Chinook, Sahaptin, Yakama, Warm Springs, Wasco, Watlata, Wishram
This report provides an inventory and assessment of the human remains in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) recovered from Upper and Lower Memaloose Islands and adjacent sectors of the Middle Columbia River basin in Oregon and Washington. Documentation of the remains and associated funerary objects from this area was initiated in June 1992 in response to a request from the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation for the return of any culturally affiliated remains from Lower Memaloose Island and their ceded lands. In addition to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, the other Native American community potentially affected by the findings of this report is the Confederated Tribes of the Yakima Indian Nation.
A total of 72 catalogue entries in the Physical Anthropology division of the NMNH were identified as having come from the Middle Columbia River basin. Fifty-one of the catalogued sets of remains were recovered by Smithsonian curator Herbert Krieger during excavations conducted on Lower Memaloose Island in 1934. A single skull in a separate museum accession collected by a different person some 65 years earlier was also determined to have come from Lower Memaloose Island. Fourteen crania, each with its own catalogue entry, were obtained from Upper Memaloose Island by the Fred Harvey Company and sold to the National Museum in 1903. Another set of remains located in 1948 by the River Basin Survey project comes from an interior site in Crook County, Oregon. The remaining five catalogue entries consist of crania from the Middle Columbia River basin that were collected during the 19th century and initially sent to the Army Medical Museum. The provenience information on these remains is imprecise. Three of the skulls were recovered near the Cascades of the Columbia River ; one was collected upstream from the Dalles on the south bank of Columbia River ; and one was recovered by the Wilkes Expedition somewhere along the middle Columbia River. In compliance with Public Law 101-185, these 72 sets of remains were evaluated in terms of their probable cultural affiliation.
The mid-Columbia River region, particularly in the vicinity of The Dalles, was a cultural crossroads where groups from two distinct culture areas, the Northwest Coast and the Plateau, converged. Native peoples living in this area at the time of contact included the Wasco, Wishram, White Salmon, and Watlala (Cascades), Upper Chinookan groups affiliated with the Northwest Coast tradition; and the Klickitat, Tenino, and Yakima, Sahaptin speakers associated with the Plateau culture area. The treaty agreements signed in 1855 established two separate reservations in the region on either side of the Columbia River. As a result, village groups living on the north side of the middle Columbia, including both Upper Chinookan and Sahaptin-speaking peoples became affiliated with the Yakima reservation, while those living on the south side moved to the Warm Springs reservation.
The human remains from both Upper and Lower Memaloose Islands were recovered from mixed, multiple burial contexts. These mixed deposits can be ascribed to traditional mortuary practices in the region involving the use of above-ground charnel houses. Associated funerary objects from the ossuary on Lower Memaloose indicate that the island was in use as a mortuary facility from at least the late 18th century through the mid-19th century. The artifactual evidence is corroborated by early ethnohistoric accounts and oral tradition. Though lacking associated funerary offerings, the remains from Upper Memaloose Island are assumed to date to the same general proto-historic/early historic time period based on the fortuitous association of a few historic objects and the taphonomic condition of the crania.
Based on the ethnohistoric and ethnographic information available on aboriginal village locations, the mortuary practices indicated by the context in which the remains were found, the presence of quantities of historic artifacts, and the number of crania in the series exhibiting intentional modification (a practice associated with the Upper Chinook), it is suggested that the remains from Lower Memaloose Island were culturally affiliated with the White Salmon, Wishram, and/or Wasco bands of the Upper Chinook. Accordingly, it was recommended that both the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Yakima Nation, the Native American entities under which these bands are now subsumed, be notified about the presence of these remains in the NMNH and consulted about their wishes regarding the disposition of these remains.
The archaeological assemblage from Lower Memaloose includes a large collection of personal and domestic artifacts. The collection encompasses a total of 162 archaeology catalogue numbers in Accession No. 135869 and two catalogue numbers in Accession No. 180456 (n=164). Based on the context of recovery, the items in this assemblage are interpreted as associated funerary objects, and, as such, are subject to repatriation under Public Law 101-185. Consequently, it was recommended that these items be offered for return together with the human remains.
With respect to the mortuary population from Upper Memaloose Island, fewer of the individuals (c. 65 percent) have intentionally flattened heads. Given this, together with the fact that Upper Memaloose Island was located at the outer limits of Upper Chinookan influence, it seems not unlikely that both Upper Chinookan and Sahaptin speaking peoples utilized this island for burial purposes. Applying the same criteria as listed above for the lower Memaloose assemblage, it is suggested that the 14 sets of remains from Upper Memaloose (Acc. No. 41387) are likely affiliated with either the Wishram, for whom the island was formally set aside as a cemetery in 1926, the Wasco, or the local Tenino. As in the case of the above, it is recommended that both the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Yakima Nation be consulted about their wishes regarding the disposition of these remains. No funerary items were associated with the human remains from Upper Memaloose Island.
Of the three crania recovered in the vicinity of the Cascades, two are identified as Watlala, while the other is identified as a probable member of the Klickitat or Yakima tribe. The remaining two individuals in Accession No. 33553 from the middle Columbia River Valley, lack secure provenience information. The former exhibits the type of intentional cranial modification associated with the Upper Chinookan groups, while the other cranium is unmodified. There were no funerary objects associated with any of these remains. Given the presence of cranial re-shaping and the available provenience information, the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes was consulted regarding the disposition of these remains. The Yakima Nation was consulted regarding the disposition of the individual identified as Yakima or Klickitat. The cultural affiliation of the remaining individual is unknown.
The final set of remains included in this inventory was recovered by the River Basin Survey archaeological salvage project in the Prineville Reservoir basin in central Oregon. Evidence of a bullet wound to the head suggests the probable cause of death and dates the burial to the historic period. The cranium also exhibits intentional modification of the type associated with the Upper Chinookan populations. Given that the cultural affiliation of the individual cannot be specified beyond the level of Upper Chinook, it was recommended that both the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes and Yakima Nation be consulted as to their wishes regarding the disposition of this set of remains.
All remains discussed in this report were jointly repatriated to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Indian Nation on December 12, 1994.
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