Digging into Human Remains Legislation

Written by Jamie Kouba

“I have a project that I’m working on and I thought you might want to help”.  That’s how it all started.  Dr. Andrea Palmiotto asked me if I’d be interested in helping her work on a grant funded project.  Honestly, I was just excited to help, I probably would have said yes to just about anything.  Once I found out what the project was and that it involved archaeology and the law, I was completely sold! Due to the publicity that the

Arch Street Project received for the unexpected discovery of hundreds of human burials, members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly were made aware of certain complicating factors that must be dealt with when human remains are inadvertently discovered.  The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (CRP) is a bipartisan legislative agency that serves the Pennsylvania General Assembly in helping to create rural policy.  In 2019, CRP tasked Dr. Palmiotto with providing a comprehensive assessment of Pennsylvania legislation related to human remains and burials, specifically those of archaeological concern, such as abandoned or forgotten cemeteries, or isolated and unmarked burials.  Although there are federal laws regarding the discovery of archaeological remains, those laws only apply to projects that include federal involvement.  In the state of Pennsylvania, there is no state-level legislation that adequately addresses the inadvertent discovery of archaeological remains on state owned, state-funded, state-assisted projects, or private property.

After some conversations about what we thought Pennsylvania was missing, in terms of legislation, we ended up with more questions than answers.  What is supposed to happen when human remains are discovered?  Who is in charge?  What happens to those remains after a disinterment?  Dr. Palmiotto and

I made a list of agencies in Pennsylvania and other states that we needed to contact in order to gather case studies, and we got to work.  Due to the pandemic, we couldn’t meet with any of these agencies in person. Luckily, we had technology and so we did months of research and interviews through emails and Zoom.  We gathered dozens of stories, field reports, and news articles and we started to assess which laws were applied to each project and why.  As it turned out, because there was only a web of partially intersecting local laws, state laws, and standard operating procedures among different agencies, every case was handled differently.  It was really interesting to see how different agencies interpreted that patch work of laws and put them to use.  Seeing how each of the projects were handled with the utmost care and respect for the deceased was wonderfully reassuring to my faith that modern archaeology is not grave robbing.

It took about nine months; but at the end of it, we submitted a completed report to CRP that outlined the existing laws and standard operating procedures that are currently being utilized in Pennsylvania and in other states, as well as making recommendations for new legislation that will help to create best practices for the future of archaeological burials.  Copies of our report were published by Pennsylvania General Assembly and sent to other state agencies.  It is our hope that these recommendations will be used to guide Pennsylvania in the respectful and efficient recovery of human remains.  Although Dr. Palmiotto and I didn’t use any trowels, our digging into the Pennsylvania’s laws and regulations regarding archaeological remains will serve the future archaeological record.  And for that, I’m so very grateful that I got the chance to work on this project.

The article can be found here: Historic-and-Archaeological-Human-Remains-2021.pdf (palegislature.us)

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PAC and SPA and You

Image from the Carnegie Blog featuring students and faculty from IUP learning about SPA’s the current rock shelter excavations. (I am in the blue).

IUP faculty and students are actively involved in both the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council (PAC) and the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA).  This week two members of SPA chapters in the region (Amanda Valko from Allegheny Chapter 1 and Jim Barno of the Westmoreland Archaeological Society Chapter 23) wrote a blog post for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History detailing the reasons for joining these groups and how to get into contact with these two local chapters.  PAC is made up of archaeological professions, students, and highly experienced advocational archaeologists.  This group “works to advise policy and legislative interests”.  SPA is an organization for anyone interested in archaeology and consists of various chapters throughout the state.  Their focus in on “promoting the study of archaeological resources in PA, discouraging irresponsible exploration, connecting avocational and professionals, and promoting the conservation of sites, artifacts, and information”. Both organizations do very good work and are great to expanding one’s information and interest in local Pennsylvania archaeology.  The link to the full blog is below.

Pennsylvania Archaeology and You – Carnegie Museum of Natural History (carnegiemnh.org)

SPA Chapters: Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology

PAC: Pennsylvania Archaeological Council (pennarchcouncil.org)

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Suffrage and Haudenosaunee

Illustration titled “Haudenosaunee” by Jessica Bogac-Moore. Source: https://www.yesmagazine.org/

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote.  When we study the women’s suffrage movement, the focus tends to be on the Seneca Falls Convention and three main activists: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage.  However, history rarely discusses the women of the Haudenosaunee women who inspired these three incredible women.  Since the creation of the United States of America, men have been the center of attention.  They were given the right to vote, create laws, manage money, and had complete control over everything his wife and daughters “owned”.  However, not all governmental systems were like this.  The Haudenosaunee of New York, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, was a democracy (possibly the world’s oldest still in existence) which was based on a matriarchal system.  Women were not only included in conferences, had ownership of possessions, and could vote on matters, but they also had great authority and could even dismiss clan leaders.

Cady Stanton lived in Seneca, NY and had close contact with members of the Haudenosaunee and saw first-hand a better life for women.  These interactions greatly impacted her view on the world, and she wrote many of her impressions of the Haudenosaunee women in the National Bulletin.  Mott also spent time discussion politics and women’s roles in government

Elizabeth Cady Stanton one of the major activists of the suffrage movement

with these women.  Gage admired the equality among men and women of the nation.  To these three women, and the rest of the women who follow the very male-centered American cultural system, this way of life probably seems like heaven on Earth. Haudenosaunee women could divorce their husbands with ease and keep all their possessions and children. While in the event of an unlikely divorce, the American woman was left with nothing.  American women did not have money, possessions, agency, or control over their physical being. They were little more than child baring objects for men to control.  Wedding vows included a statement that the women would “obey” her husband, a statement which Cady Stanton omitted from her vows.  Men were allowed to beat their wives, and rape or sexual assault did not exist within a marriage.  Among all these problems, there was one overarching issue that needed to be addressed.  In order to change or create laws to improve women’s lives, men had to take action.  Not only were women forced to rely on men in their daily lives, but they also had to rely on them to better their stations.  This was not so for the women of the Haudenosaunee.  Clan mothers had the authority to take away male authority and change clan leadership.  They were consulted at every conference, treaty meeting, and any other major political event.  This female presence often made the American male representatives rather uncomfortable.

It is unfortunate that many of these First Nation women are nameless and not mentioned in history books.  This nation had democracy and gender equality before the United States even existed.  We as people who live under the US Constitution, owe our democracy to these democracy First Nations and we as women owe our rights and ability to vote to those women who through living their lives, inspired other women to make a change.  Other cultures can offer so much information that can change the way someone looks at their own culture.  Just like Cady Stanton, Gage, and Mott were inspired by the Haudenosaunee women, we can be inspired by many other cultures from around the world.  It is important to consider other ways of life and view them not as an “other” but as something to seek new experiences from.  Maybe we live better lives if we take a little outside inspiration.

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Sources: Yes Magazine and http://www.suffragettes2020.com/resources/native-american-and-american-indians


Brendan Cole Thesis: An Exploration of New Techniques

Written by Brendan Cole

The Monongahela Cultural Tradition is recognized as dating to the Late Prehistoric period, approximately A.D. 1150 to 1635. Additionally, it is identified as being present in southwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and northern West Virginia, where they lived in stockaded farming villages. The Monongahela culture was present during initial European contact, but there is currently no evidence that they were directly contacted by Europeans and were gone by the time settlers had reached Western Pennsylvania. The site used in this study is a Monongahela village site known as Squirrel Hill. It is a village site located in Westmoreland County. While the site was discovered in the mid-20th and there have been subsequent thesis studies and field schools conducted, there is still much unknown about the site.

Soil pellet creator

The focus of this thesis is to explore the efficacy of non-invasive archaeological techniques to extract archaeological data. It is important to explore non-invasive/destructive methodologies because traditional archaeological excavation techniques are destructive in nature. Essentially whatever we dig up is removed from its original context, thus destroying that portion of the site. Preservation ethic, in short, tells us that if we do not need to excavate a site we should not. This not only preserves a non-renewable resource but saves them for the future when new excavation techniques, technologies, and research questions are developed.

Portable XRF device in workbench setup

Currently, there are technologies available to us that allow for data extraction without site disturbance or destruction. Two of those techniques, and the ones used in this thesis study, are ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and x-ray fluorescence (XRF). Separately these techniques have been proven to have great utility, but they have scarcely been used together.

This study aims to use both techniques in tandem at the Squirrel hill site. The GPR data will be overlain with elemental density maps constructed from the XRF. The primary goal of this will be to see where GPR anomalies and XRF elemental data overlap and where it does not. This will show areas of cultural activity and suggest what activities were occurring in those places. By doing this we will also gain an idea of village layout. All this information will not only help guide future research questions and excavation at the site, but it may also show the efficacy of using these methods together at other sites.


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