The Past is Present: Exploring Methods of Cooperation Between Archaeologists, Native Americans, and Museums in Southern New England
Homo sapiens sapiens is arguably one of the most fascinating and complex species that has ever existed on Earth. On the surface, we appear to be highly diversified, and we interpret the world around us in a variety of ways. These interpretations shape the way that we live our lives on this planet, and inform our wide array of kinship patterns, marriage ceremonies, languages, religious beliefs, and more. However, for all of these differences, we are the same at our core: we contain relatively the same DNA, and might generally share similar goals and aspirations for ourselves and those we share their lives with. Therefore, if we are to understand each other and perhaps build a more understanding world, it might be wise to consider shifting our focus from the differences which separate us to the similarities which bind us. Anthropology is a valuable field because, ultimately, it is capable of dissolving our ideas about how cultural differences separate us to allow us to function more effectively as a globalized world, by respecting and maintaining cultural differences. As a subfield of anthropology in the United States, archaeology might strive to advocate for and practice the same. However, archaeologists in the United States have not always exercised such cultural sensitivity, for example, in Southern New England. The arrival of the Europeans to the “New World” set into motion a complex history which would result in the differing worldviews of archaeologists and Native Americans. As non-Native individuals grew more interested in the pre-contact history of Southern New England, an emphasis on science and the thrill of discovery grew at the expense of any interest in or respect for the rich cultures of the by-then decimated and assimilated Native communities. Museums joined the fray, as a need for artifact storage and a desire to educate the public expanded. However, oftentimes the Native perspective was ignored in favor of the archaeologists’ or the curators’ perspective in exhibit design, thus further skewing the history presented to the public, which contributed to perpetuating the stereotypical image of Native Americans in the United States. Eventually, important changes were made after new legislation was passed and important discourse about Native American cultural heritage and treatment began. It is an intricate history of self-interests clashing with spiritual beliefs that continues today and still has room for further evolution. In this thesis, my goal is to present the voices of archaeologists, Native peoples, and museum authorities in the most authentic voice possible. While this might appear to render the piece less academic, it is nonetheless important to consider these stories, experiences, and opinions precisely as they have been expressed, to come as close as possible to devising models of cooperation that are tailored to the unique concerns of each stakeholder. Effective collaboration is not simply a kind gesture, but a requirement for the proper treatment of cultural materials and it will strengthen scientific rigor in archaeological research rather than weakening
Curtiss Hoffman (Thesis Director)
Joyce Rain Anderson
Copyright and Permissions
Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.
Hoffman, McKayla. (2014). The Past is Present: Exploring Methods of Cooperation Between Archaeologists, Native Americans, and Museums in Southern New England. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 54. Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj/54
Copyright © 2014 McKayla Hoffman