Recently, leading anthropologists and archaeologists sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar expressing deep concern with a recently implemented rule from the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) National Office in Washington, DC.  NAGPRA is housed within the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) website, ScienceInsider, the scientists sent the “letter of protest” to Secretary Salazar on May 17.  The website further reports that the letter stated that the rule as written will cause “an incalculable loss to science” by permanently making such remains unavailable, and that the rule is “contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law.”

ScienceInsider reported on May 24, 2010, that Sherry Hutt, NAGPRA Program Manager, “responded to some of the scientific concerns in an e-mail to ScienceInsider, suggesting that the remains covered by the rule aren’t likely to have much scientific value.”

ScienceInsider also reported: The original NAGPRA statute strove to balance the interests of science and Native Americans, and has spurred cooperation between them, says lead author Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution.  NAGPRA requires that museums and other repositories repatriate culturally affiliated remains and draw up a list of unaffiliated remains, but it is silent on what to do with the unaffiliated remains.  The new rule requiring their disposal is “very bad news for science,” Smith says.  He adds that “the potential for overlapping and conflicting requests [for remains] is enormous.”

The NSC Alliance has in recent years formally commented on the NAGPRA Office’s efforts to craft and implement the latest rule.  These comments are not reflected in the final rule.  The new NAGPRA rule is at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-5283.pdf.  The most recent NSC Alliance comments are available at http://nscalliance.org/?p=277.