Quantifying Indianness: Commonsensical practice in U.S. bioarchaeology and skeletal biology

Author(s): Ann Kakaliouras

Year: 2015


Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, U.S. museums and universities amassed massive stores of the skeletons of Native American people. These collections eventually became the source-base for bioarchaeology, a subfield of both physical anthropology and archaeology that emerged in the 1970’s and continues producing interpretations about past Native American identities from the study of skeletal remains. Over the last few decades, the reburial movement and the passage of NAGPRA has slowed—or sometimes stopped—further collection of Native American remains, and has given indigenous people a say in the fates of their ancestors and a seat at the archaeological table. Yet, cultural interpretations in bioarchaeology and skeletal biology remain insular and informed by processual concerns with objectivity. This "objectivity," though, has commonly rested on older, biologized notions of identity, including claims that remains must "look Indian" to be related to or ancestral to contemporary Native people. Kennewick Man/The Ancient One represents the most famous recent instance of this interpretive tradition in bioarchaeology and skeletal biology. This paper, however, focuses on other more ubiquitous and less publicized cases to assert that common sense notions that equate morphology with cultural identity need further examination in the anthropological and archaeological sciences.

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Cite this Record

Quantifying Indianness: Commonsensical practice in U.S. bioarchaeology and skeletal biology. Ann Kakaliouras. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395767)