A collection of artifacts dating back to the 1700s, including a sacred whistle, a wooden stick, a button, a shell and a rounded cork are to be returned to the Nez Perce tribe after lying forgotten in a crate in a warehouse.
University of Idaho anthropologist Leah Evans-Janke says it was one of those fortuitous discoveries that happen sometimes in archaeological collections: Somebody opens a dusty old box, not knowing what’s inside.
While Evans-Janke, collections manager at UI’s Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology in Moscow, Idaho, says the discovery isn’t earthshaking, it’s “the greatest feeling in the world is meeting with the tribe, and handing the items back over to them, and knowing things are coming back to where they should be – kind of tipping the balance in the universe to where things should be.”
The 20-year-old federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires that human remains, funerary and sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are to be returned to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated American Indian tribes. Sometimes, it takes years; collections are so vast, even their curators don’t know what they have.