Native American remains wrongfully used in college’s teaching labs, NH school says

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Jim Cole/AP file

The remains of over a dozen Native Americans were discovered among the collections of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, the school said.

Fifteen wrongfully possessed skeletal remains were identified during an investigation, the university stated in a March 28 news release, adding that some of the bones were used recently in campus courses.

“I am deeply saddened by what we’ve found on our campus,” Philip Hanlon, the university president, stated. “On behalf of Dartmouth, I sincerely apologize to our entire community.”

“This is an extremely painful discovery, especially for Native American and Indigenous students and alumni, and for the faculty and staff who believed in good faith that they were not teaching with ancestral remains in their classrooms and labs,” Hanlon added.

Audits of the school’s anthropology department and a campus museum revealed dubious sourcing and improper cataloguing of human remains.

“The history of human skeletal acquisitions is ugly,” David Kotz, the university provost, stated.

Indigenous burial grounds were dug up and their contents were occasionally transported to Dartmouth as its osteological collection was established over two centuries, the university said.

The university’s wrongful acquisition of such remains first came to light over 30 years ago.

Following the passage of federal legislation to protect Native American graves in 1990, Dartmouth completed an inventory of indigenous artifacts and returned ancestral remains to native tribes and organizations on four occasions.

But, a more thorough inventory and review was initiated in 2021, which resulted in the discovery of the 15 skeletal remains.

Some of the skeletons appeared to have “stains or root impressions,” indicating they had once been in the ground.

Records show that some of them were used in university osteology teaching labs “as recently as fall 2022,” the school stated. Osteology is the study of bones.

Dartmouth is still in the process of identifying the remains, some of which are being reassembled, and is consulting with tribal nations on their eventual repatriation.

The anthropology department’s osteology course will not be taught “for the foreseeable future,” the university stated.

“The faculty want to be 100% confident that any materials used for teaching have been ethically obtained before they list such courses again,” Kotz stated.

Dartmouth is a private Ivy League university that was established in 1769 to educate young Native Americans, according to the university website.

In recent years, universities and museums across the country, including the University of Florida and the University of Kentucky, have stated they will repatriate Native American remains, according to ProPublica.

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