And Now For Something Completely Different: History Department Hosts Skull Session

October 27, 2010, 1:15 pm

According to a Salt Lake, Utah, television station, yesterday a package was received by the History Department at the Brigham Young University Campus in Provo.  Upon opening it, an unlucky employee found two skulls packed in bubble wrap.  Sent via USPS Priority Mail, and addressed to “historical department,” there was “no explanation why two skulls were being mailed to the university.”  The police were called, and the skulls have been shipped to the office of the state archaeologist for forensic analysis.  As KSL reports on its website,

The leading theory now is that the skulls are likely those of Native Americans and someone may have decided that possessing the skulls was a bad idea, especially with the recent artifact possession indictments in southeastern Utah. Investigators believe that by sending them to a university, the person thought someone on campus would know what to do with them.

“No note at all. It had a return address of Augusta, Montana, with the name of “Jim Crow,” and that was it,” [the police spokesperson] said.

The name of Jim Crow initially raised some concern due to its history with segregation in the South. Detectives have not found anyone with that name in the Montana town and believe it was a made-up name, like John Doe.

Jim Crow, John Doe — whatever.  A little bit of research reveals that the Crow (Apsaalooke) Nation headquarters are also in Montana, slightly south of Billings:  Augusta is a four hour drive from there.  

The other important information is that, should your university, department, or local historical society be in possession of Native American artifacts or remains, this may also be in violation of federal law.  NAGPRA, which demands the cataloguing and eventual repatriation of objects, many of which are sacred.  Human remains have spiritual implications for the group in question and need to be properly interred, taken from indigenous people in the United States during the long colonization of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.   Remains improperly retained, I am also told by a Native colleague, can cause you to become sick.  

This entry was posted in American Studies, history departments, NAGPRA. Bookmark the permalink.