ORTHODOX HEART SITES
After 87 years at the Smithsonian,
bones of Alaska Natives returned and reburied
Anthropologists once excavated the graves of thousands of Native Americans. Now museums in the U.S. are slowly working to return those remains and funerary objects to tribes.
A village in southwest Alaska recently reburied 24 of their ancestors who had been excavated by a Smithsonian anthropologist in 1931.
About half of the village of Igiugig crowded into the Russian Orthodox Church in the center of town on a drizzly fall day. In the center of the nave sat three handmade, wooden coffins that held the bones from the now-abandoned settlement of Kaskanak.
The remains were unearthed by Aleš Hrdlička, who was the head of the anthropology department in what is now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The question of how people originally came to North America and from where drove Hrdlička to dig up the bones of Native Americans all around the United States. Historians estimate that he took thousands to Washington, D.C., for research.
After more than eight decades in the museum’s collection, Igiugig’s ancestors finally returned home for reburial.