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20 November 2006
Ancient remains in limbo in South Carolina

The remains of hundreds of ancient people once buried in South Carolina (USA) continue to be stored in archives across the state five years after their existence was made public — despite efforts by tribal groups to recover and rebury them. One set of remains stored by federal officials at the Savannah River Site might be as many as 6,000 years old, said Barbara Morningstar Paul, the state program coordinator for Native American Affairs.
     Leaders of tribes with people still living in South Carolina want the human remains returned to tribal groups for reburial. Most American Indians believe the spirits of the dead cannot rest as long as their remains are removed from the earth. But the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act has created a bureaucratic maze for tribal groups seeking to recover and rebury the long-dead ancestors.
     State archaeologist Jonathan Leader has custody of remains of more than 300 individuals unearthed at different times and under varying circumstances. Tribal leaders say Leader has worked diligently to cut through federal regulations to allow repatriation of the ancient bones. But his hands are tied by federal law. Leader said the scope of the state’s holdings of native people’s remains has changed little since their existence was made public five years ago. He said publicity about the issue has made some entities, such as governments and private contractors, more sensitive about avoiding unearthing more burial sites. But many of the remains that are in bureaucratic limbo have been held by the state for decades. "A great deal has changed," Leader said. "We are all working together to find a solution. But we go down some paths that are dead ends. It does not help that we do not have a full set of regulations."
     American Indians continue to be cautious about dealings with white-led governments. "There’s an old Indian saying, 'If you dig up one white person, you go to prison; if you dig up 100 Indians, you get a Ph.D.'"
Source: The State (South Carolina) (13 November 2006)

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