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Heritage Values and Stewardship of Ancestral Remains
Journal of Oriental Archaeology (2012)
  • Pei-Lin Yu

In both China and North America, funerary objects from ancient burials are tangible heritage resources with tremendous scientific, cultural, aesthetic, commercial, and sometimes sacred value. They are therefore at high risk of looting and destruction when accidentally exposed by natural or human disturbances. Federal laws in both China and the U.S. are strongly worded to protect funerary objects. However, actual remains of individuals are not usually considered cultural relics or archaeological items. The U.S. has a long history of human remains being subjected to scientific analysis—usually Native American remains studied by Euro-Americans—to support research about ancient lifeways, health, and nutrition. This changed with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) enacted in 1990. NAGPRA requires federal agencies and federally funded museums to identify and consult with culturally affiliated descendants, and if possible, repatriate human remains, grave goods, and sacred objects. Legal controversies such as the Kennewick Man case overshadow the evolving picture of collaborative stewardship of human remains and grave goods in the United States. Because of the variability of human cultural practices, socio-political contexts, and sideboards imposed by planning and finances, successful stewardship absolutely requires meaningful consultation with stakeholders.

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Citation Information
Pei-Lin Yu. "Heritage Values and Stewardship of Ancestral Remains" Journal of Oriental Archaeology Vol. 8 (2012)
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