Alabama returning Native American artifacts to tribes

Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 9:50 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:32 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Remains and adorned objects from the 18th century will no longer be displayed in the state’s exhibition, called “The First Alabamians.”

Alabama Department of Archives and History Director Steve Murray says the department has taken good care the artifacts, but he says the origins of how they came to Alabama were problematic.

Thirty-seven sets of human remains and 380 objects were discovered by archeology enthusiasts from the Alabama Anthropologic Society, which dug up graves of Native Americans in central Alabama. In the early 1900s, they turned their findings over to the state’s archives department.

Murray said the ADAH’s purpose for displaying the artifacts was to educate the public about Native American culture.

“The truth is these were the graves of individuals who are ancestors of Native American people today that were opened and disturbed,” said Murray.

The artifacts will be returned to their tribes as part of the the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law the Alabama Department of Archives and History has been compliant with since 2018.

The department began phase one of repatriating items in May and plans to complete the process by next spring.

“This is a long-term project that will result in a large amount of material,” Murray explained. “Those will ultimately go back to federally recognized tribes for final disposition.”

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