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An undisturbing development

October 20, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - "The Ohio Historical Society has told its archaeologists to keep their hands off prehistoric human remains they may find during excavations.

The society has issued a memo saying the remains are to be left in place, except in special circumstances.

"They are to note it, mark it but not do any further excavations until we feel more comfortable with our relations to native peoples," said Rachel Tooker, the society's chief operating officer.

Previously, skeletal material routinely was returned to the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus for study and storage. The society's collection as of last year included about 6,500 individual pieces or sets of human remains and 107,000 artifacts from graves.

"I kind of hated to make this the issue," Tooker said. "Our bottom line is to improve communications with tribal groups."

American Indian groups said they welcome the move but won't be satisfied until all remains and grave artifacts now in collections are returned to them for reburial.

"We think this is a very good thing, and we're happy Rachel put it in place," said Barbara Mann of Toledo, a spokeswoman for the Native American Alliance of Ohio. "But it's high time. Ohio is behind the times, and Rachel is trying to pull [the society] into the 21st century."

The moratorium was imposed in late July. Mann believes it's a reaction to publicity the society received last spring when it removed three prehistoric Indian skeletons during construction at the Fort Meigs State Memorial in Perrysburg.

The society still has the skeletons but has returned six other skeletons from a 19th century settler's graveyard disturbed at the same site to the settler's descendants for reburial.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 requires archaeologists to report Indian remains and artifacts in their collections and establishes how federally recognized tribes can reclaim them.

The law controls how remains and artifacts are handled after they are collected but doesn't deal with whether grave objects should be removed or left alone.

The society's memo on what to do when remains are found says their location will be recorded and provisions will be made to safeguard them from disturbance and vandalism.

Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis if the graves lie in the path of construction or are in a "disturbed" state.

The moratorium on disturbing remains does not deal with artifacts, such as jewelry or ceremonial objects, or with items already in the society's collection.

Archaeologists say this will mean the loss of some scientific information, but they appear to be accepting the restrictions as inevitable.

"This is becoming more and more the norm," said Brian Redmond, president of the Ohio Archaeological Council. "We've had a similar policy at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History since the 1980s: If something is not in danger of being destroyed, we let it remain."

2002 The Plain Dealer.

Posted by Mikola 18 -- NDN AIM

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