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The long-term effect of colonialism is seen in museums and collections today through the possession and display of artifacts and human remains, originally belonging to Native Americans. NAGPRA was established in the 1990s as national law to help prevent illegal exportation of cultural property and outlines the process of returning the objects or remains.
The geological collection on display in Pfahler Hall, “Pieces of Earth’s History”, has a variety of minerals, artifacts, and fossils each with their own individually unique story. My research focused on the artifacts in the collection, which were collected and donated to Ursinus College by alumnus Dr. Lee Porter (’35). I found through NAGPRA documentation that our objects fall under the classification Cultural Patrimony, indicating they may have historical value to a tribe but no religious importance. Nevertheless, the rules of NAGPRA do not officially apply to our collection as it does not receive any federal money for upkeep. However, we still find it important to first offer the objects to their original owners for repatriation. If given to us with permission to display, we will work with them to raise cultural awareness of visitors with the intent of promoting the importance of community and respect.
Returning the artifacts entails photographic documentation, condition reporting, and restoration. The photographs I took were designed to combine visual appeal and anthropological documentation. To further the documentation process, I removed any glue residue, took measurements of the artifacts, and detailed their condition. We hope that other museums and collection owners will see this work as motivation to reconnect the historical objects/remains with their appropriate owners.
Valerio, Juliana, "Geology, Anthropology, and NAGPRA" (2022). Environmental Studies Summer Fellows. 13.
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