Table of contents
Table of contents
Podcast S4 E7 | 44 min

Repatriation Is Our Future

13 Apr 2022
In the SAPIENS podcast season 4 finale, listeners hear the story of Dr. Rachel Watkins and why repatriation matters for African American communities.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, or NAGPRA, is supposed to curb the illegal possession of ancestral Native American remains and cultural items. But a year after it was passed by the U.S. federal government, a significant African burial ground in New York City was uncovered. And there was zero legislation in place for its protection. Dr. Rachel Watkins shares the story of the New York African Burial Ground—and what repatriation looks like for African American communities.


  • Dr. Rachel Watkins, Ph.D., is a biocultural anthropologist with an emphasis on African American biohistory and social history, bioanthropological research practices, and histories of American biological anthropology. Initially trained in skeletal biology, her work focused on looking at relationships between health, disease, and social location in people whose remains are in the W. Montague Cobb anatomical collection and interred at the New York African Burial Ground. This research led to a broader interest in how African American skeletal remains and living populations were centered in the development of research practices and racial formation in U.S. biological anthropology. Rachel draws on intellectual and political work tied to Cobb and his laboratory from 1932 to the present as sites for understanding science as a social practice through a Black feminist lens. This includes: traditions of Black scholar-activism contesting scientific racism, anthropology’s efforts toward critiquing scientific racism without attending to structural racism, and the positionality of scientific researchers.

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is also part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. This season was created in collaboration with the Indigenous Archaeology Collective and the Society of Black Archaeologists, with art by Carla Keaton and music from Jobii, _91nova, and Justnormal.

Thank you to the Harvard Crimson and their podcast, A Legacy Revealed, for permitting us to use a clip from episode 4, “I Could See Family in Their Eyes,” hosted by Raquel Coronell Uribe and Six Yu and produced by Lara Dada, Zing Gee, and Thomas Maisonneuve.

Listen also to SAPIENS Talk Back, a companion series by Cornell University’s RadioCIAMS. In episode 7, we continue the discussion that began in the finale of season 4 of the SAPIENS podcast, a conversation that examines “repatriation” and what it means for archaeology. Our guests this episode are Dr. Rachel Watkins, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at American University and a specialist in African American biohistory, and Dr. Dorothy Lippert, an expert in repatriation and a tribal liaison for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Check out these related resources:

Episode sponsor:

  • University of California, Los Angeles, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology

Additional support:

  • University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology
Read a transcript of this episode

Dr. Ora Marek-Martinez: The following episode contains heavy topics involving ancestors and repatriation. Please proceed with caution.

Yoli Ngandali: The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology sits just north of Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Above the arch entrance are the words “founded 1866, built 1877.”

Ora: Beyond the welcome desks are exhibitions featuring Penobscot canoes, 19th-century Lakota art, plaster replica Mayan sculptures, and ceramics from around the world.

Yoli: It’s hard to grasp the sheer magnitude of the museum’s collections.

Ora: There are over 1.2 million belongings at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and it is one of the oldest museums of anthropology still standing.

Yoli: And that’s not all they’re famous for.

A Legacy Revealed Podcast [excerpt]: Harvard is about number four as being one of the most numerous ancestors in their collections. So, that means they have not repatriated, or they still have a large collection that they haven’t dealt with yet.

Yoli: This is a clip from an interview by Harvard Crimson for their podcast A Legacy Revealed. The speaker is Shannon O’Loughlin, and she is a representative from the Association on American Indian Affairs, one of the few organizations that advocate for Native American repatriation and reburial.

Ora: The Harvard Crimson shares how the news of allegations against the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology came to light in February 2021.

Speaker 4: Earlier this year, university President Larry Bacow announced possible remains of enslaved people were found in the Peabody’s archives. He sent an apology to Harvard affiliates as a response. At the end of the letter, Bacow wrote of the museum’s compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, which requires federal agencies or institutions that receive federal funds to identify Native American cultural items and repatriate them to their rightful tribe.

Ora: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, or NAGPRA, requires federal agencies or institutions that receive federal funds to first identify Native American ancestral human remains and cultural items, and secondly, to repatriate them to affiliated tribal nations, which are both actions that should have been completed by 1995. Harvard had claimed that the remains in their collection were culturally unidentifiable. Some groups allege that this is a tactic used to ensure repatriation of ancestral remains does not occur.

Yoli: In theory, NAGPRA can be enforced in a variety of ways: appeals, fines, and repatriation.

Ora: NAGPRA offers legal grounds for nonprofits, associations, and Indigenous communities to hold institutions like the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology accountable. But there is still a lot of resistance and a long way to go.

Yoli: And not all of the ancestors and ancestral belongings in museums are covered by these basic protections. In October 1991, just one year after NAGPRA was passed, a major burial site was uncovered.

Ora: In downtown Manhattan, crews broke ground to build a US$275 million federal office building between Reade and Chambers streets. The site had been marked on maps but never formally recognized. Dating back to 1712, it was a massive cemetery for freed and enslaved people of African descent.

Yoli: But there was and is no NAGPRA for Black or African American communities.

Ora: Until 1991, 30 feet of soil had protected much of the 6.6-acre burial ground. But now hundreds of ancestral remains and belongings were exposed, and there was not a clear course of action. No legal protocol and no laws forbidding the government from constructing an office building on the site.

Yoli: But Black activists, local political leaders, historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists gathered to come up with a plan alongside their community.

Ora: The group was led by Michael Blakey, and it was called the New York African Burial Ground project.

Yoli: It is one of the largest burial grounds for African American people uncovered in U.S. history. Four hundred and nineteen individuals’ remains were removed from the site, but the grounds were believed to have once contained 10,000–20,000 people of African descent.

Ora: In the final episode of this season, we are talking about repatriation.

Yoli: This is episode 7, Repatriation Is Our Future.

Ora: I’m Ora.

Yoli: And I’m Yoli. In this season on the SAPIENS podcast, we explore how Black and Indigenous archaeologists are changing the stories we tell.

[SAPIENS introduction and music]

Dr. Rachel Watkins: Those ancestral remains were highly and rightly politicized.

Yoli: This is Dr. Rachel Watkins. She is a bioculturalist who worked on the New York African Burial Ground project with Michael Blakey.

Rachel: So many issues around the treatment of skeletal remains and the connections between how certain groups of people are treated in death and certain groups of people are treated in life, I mean, all of those sorts of connections were amplified. You know, the work that I’m doing now kind of looking at ways of understanding people biologically and culturally has everything to do with these sorts of questions that opened up over time for me.

Yoli: Dr. Rachel studies the data that is detectable in human skeletons in order to understand their health and wellness in life.

Rachel: We got plenty of work to do. But I think that there are many different perspectives around reburial and African descendant remains.

Yoli: Whether or not the protections of African descendant remains and graves should be modeled off NAGPRA is an open question. Some archaeologists believe all study of human remains should be paused until their living communities can be contacted and consulted. On the other hand, some believe that the research should continue so that the stories of African American health and lineages can be better represented in the field. Others think that NAGPRA didn’t go far enough and offer alternative models.

Yoli: Dr. Rachel first encountered archaeology when she was a high schooler in Toledo, Ohio. She was captivated by one particular book that connected skeletons and racism.

Rachel: I ended up taking this elective history course in high school that a faculty member at my high school had put together after she went to apartheid South Africa for a year for a sabbatical. So, she put this course together based on some of the things that she’d studied there and just the impact of the experience on her life. And so we read The Mismeasure of Man.

Yoli: The Mismeasure of Man, first published in 1981, is a book by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. It is a critique of biological determinism.

Yoli: Biological determinism is a theory that who we are, how intelligent we are, how skilled or capable we are is the result of our DNA. This theory was and is highly problematic. It sought to justify and uphold classism, sexism, and, primarily, racism through statistical analysis of certain groups.

Rachel: While Stephen J. Gould is laying this out, he’s also refuting it. That’s something that I really took to.

Yoli: Throughout the book, Stephen Jay Gould dismantles biological determinism by interrogating the methods of measuring skulls and discrediting claims of intelligence based on race.

Rachel: I just remember poring over that book and being fascinated by every part of it. So, I think, you know, just those series of questions and inquiries really was a huge impact on me.

Yoli: Dr. Rachel was so interested in Gould’s work that she called him to speak at her high school graduation.

Rachel: And he was very sweet. He said, “You know, Rachel, I would love to come, but if I put one more thing on my schedule, my wife is going to kill me.” [laughing]

Ora: Stephen Jay Gould did not end up speaking at Dr. Rachel’s high school graduation, but the way he bridged social and biological anthropology left a lasting impression on Dr. Rachel.

Yoli: After graduation, Dr. Rachel attended Howard University.

Rachel: Howard is a historically Black college or university, HBCU. I began my undergraduate tenure in an intellectual environment where my intellect, my presence, my potential wasn’t questioned. I was also exposed to a breadth of scholarship coming out of the African diaspora, especially scholar-activism. And that shaped a lot of who I am today.

Yoli: For Dr. Rachel, Howard was where she could learn, celebrate, and embrace her identity. Dr. Rachel was actively trying to figure out her future.

Rachel: I was changing my major every week, and even I ended up getting tired of that. And so, I kind of sat myself down and made a list of majors that kind of reflected my various interests.

Yoli: As she began her coursework, she was given a tip by an older student.

Rachel: I was directed by a student who was a couple years ahead of me to go speak with Michael Blakey.

Ora: Michael Blakey is the archaeologist we mentioned earlier who started the New York African Burial Ground project.

Rachel: And so, I went to him and introduced myself and let him know I wanted to major in anthropology. And he said, “Oh, well, you have good timing because I just got an NSF grant to curate a skeletal collection that has been in the basement of Howard University’s medical school for some decades.”

Ora: This ancestral collection at Howard that Michael Blakey was referring to is called the Cobb Collection, named after William Montague Cobb, the first African American to earn a doctorate in anthropology, which he did at Howard University in 1932.

Yoli: Sixty years later, at the same institution, Dr. Rachel shared something in common with Cobb. She wanted to study the lives and deaths of African Americans to better understand their histories.

Ora: William Cobb collected ancestral remains from the D.C. area and brought them to Howard University, establishing the only ancestral collection residing at a historically Black college.

Rachel: And he wanted to make a way for Black people to be a part of these discussions around human biology that weren’t focused on racial typology. He wanted to develop a collection that allowed Black folks to be a part of this kind of early-ish study of these biocultural relationships. You know, kind of looking at what’s on the skeleton as a reflection of who people are culturally or what they’re subject to culturally.

Ora: There were approximately 900 ancestors in the Cobb Collection and working with Michael to analyze and understand them seemed like it could be a big opportunity for Dr. Rachel. But she was uncertain.

Rachel: And my initial reaction was to say, “Well, I don’t know if I’m really interested in that. I want to be like Zora Neale Hurston,” and I can see his face now that I’m grown, I can see that he was looking at me like, “Oh boy, here we go.” So, he very patiently explained to me who Cobb was and the role that he played in contesting biological notions of race and how that had everything to do with looking at human biology through a socially embedded lens. And that the work that we were doing was going to be a continuation of that tradition.

Yoli: Dr. Rachel decided to study both biological and cultural anthropology so she could approach the work with the kind of multidimensional lens that fascinates her. And she took the opportunity to work with Michael to better understand the individuals in the ancestral collection.

Yoli: Dr. Rachel started by helping transport the individuals who are in the Cobb Ancestral Collection to the biological anthropology laboratory so that students at Howard University, like Dr. Rachel, could support their evaluation.

Rachel: I remember that day very clearly because I had never been around a skeletal collection like that, so I was really kind of fascinated and in awe of all the remains of these people who were around me and that I was being entrusted to take care of them. I remember that being a little intimidating.

Ora: It’s important to pay attention to Dr. Rachel’s language. She felt entrusted to take care of these ancestors. This is such an important distinction, as the language archaeologists tend to use distances themselves from the responsibility of taking care of ancestral remains. Yet Dr. Rachel sees her responsibility as caring for the ancestors. She steps into this responsibility of caring for the ancestors in a respectful and loving way.

Rachel: We are all aware of the very fraught history of biological anthropology, of archaeology, I mean, these are disciplines born out of this kind of racial ordering of humanity and a sense of access to people’s bodies and to artifacts associated with certain groups of people based on that racial ordering.

Ora: Michael encouraged his team to respect and honor the ancestors they were handling.

Rachel: Michael always pretty much insisted that we refer to them as individuals. So, there was a, you know, a sense of huge responsibility, excitement, and intimidation.

Yoli: The more experience Dr. Rachel gained in biological anthropology, the more she saw connections between her work and her own ancestors.

Rachel: It was very much so an extension of the work that my maternal grandmother did as a health activist and my paternal grandmother, who was a beautician, was also one of the first vegetarians in our hometown. And people would come to her not only to get their hair done, but to also learn about herbal medicines and vitamins and veggie burgers and all of this stuff. So, I kind of come out of a tradition of folks who care about health and the importance of health for Black people based on all of the things that we often have to live against and live in spite of.

Yoli: Like her grandmothers, Dr. Rachel focused her life’s work on public health. She examines how bodies carry a history of racism, the ancestral signs of how society treats Black and Indigenous people.

Rachel: The kind of cultural elements that bear on their existence: how much money they have, access to health care, the types of jobs that they have to do.

Ora: After Dr. Rachel graduated from Howard, she earned her doctorate at UNC-Chapel Hill. But she wasn’t done at Howard. She went back to the Cobb Collection to continue her research.

Yoli: One day, Dr. Rachel was in the lab sifting through files and looking at ancestors’ records to see who she could include in her study sample. Her best friend Jackie stopped in to pick her up.

Rachel: And she was a history major. So, she was just kind of fascinated by me being into these skeletal remains and stuff, and I showed her the pile of files that we have on each of the individuals, in many cases with their names and their addresses and their cause of death.

Yoli: While Dr. Rachel was packing her things to go out, Jackie decided to take a look at the records herself, which is when Jackie noticed something.

Rachel: And I heard her say, “Three days?” And I turned around and said, “Huh?” And she said, “This guy was only here for three days!”

Rachel: I said, “Really?”

Ora: This comment shocked Dr. Rachel.

Rachel: Because the discourse around the Cobb Collection was that these were D.C. residents.

Ora: And in that moment, Dr. Rachel realized there was more to this story.

Rachel: But in that very moment, everything that I wanted to study focused on that collection completely shifted. And my head kind of exploded in a good way, where I was thinking, you know, very traditional scientific practice and compare skeletal remains from one collection, say, with the remains of individuals from another collection, like, that’s how you do robust comparative analysis. And when Jackie brought that duration of time in the District to my attention, I said, “These people in this collection are not the same. I need to compare them.”

Yoli: Instead of analyzing all of the ancestors separately, Dr. Rachel wanted to do a profile of the whole Cobb Collection, featuring the variation between each of the ancestors within it.

Rachel: But this was like the early 2000s, so people were saying to me, “You know, you can’t do that. You know, nobody’s going to really accept that. You got to do some kind of comparative something or other.” And so I did that reluctantly. But that was really the beginning of my connection to slow science, looking at things outside of a very traditional, I guess, Western scientific context.

Ora: Dr. Rachel started investigating the social context around the collections themselves. This meant going back to the life of William Cobb and trying to understand his methodology.

Rachel: How it is that these skeletal collections come to be in terms of who decides to put them together and why? And, you know, who ends up being in these collections, and what sorts of information did people prioritize? All of those things fascinated me because I thought to myself, “If there are people in this collection that have been in D.C. their entire lives, but there are also people who’ve been in D.C. for just three days, Cobb must have known that.” And so, I asked myself, Hmm … what was his logic around that?

Ora: And Dr. Rachel was practicing her own methodology, too, thinking beyond the norms of anthropology.

Rachel: I like that, you know, it was like a Black woman friend of mine who brought this to my attention. That’s something that also had a huge impact on my thinking around intellectual pursuits. It’s about community, and it’s not all about what you can find out yourself. You’ve got to have people around you to help bring these things to your attention, and it doesn’t have to be somebody who studies what you study. Yeah, that day really changed everything for me, and it took me a very long time to get to where I am now. But that was it. That was the day.

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Ora: Whether the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology or the New York African Burial Ground, repatriation is the path forward.

Yoli: Ancestors and their belongings have been separated from our communities for too long. And more and more communities are demanding repatriation and finding creative ways to honor our histories.

Ora: The African Burial Ground, along with the African Burial Ground National Monument Visitor Center and Museum, are a physical outdoor memorial and an indoor educational facility. They include seven grassy reburial mounds containing crypts, a depiction of a globe carved into the ground in a circle, and a larger, permanent indoor installation describing the history of the site.

Yoli: This memorial is the result of ongoing protest and civic engagement. When construction teams exposed the site and began exhuming ancestral remains, people stopped them.

Ora: The government then offered to bury the ancestors in a public park and contribute US$250,000 toward a museum and a marker at the site explaining the story. But the community continued to protest.

Yoli: In the end, they attained a portion of the lot for a permanent memorial. The site became a historic landmark, and the remaining ancestors were allowed to stay at rest in the ground.

Ora: Around the same time, Howard University became involved.

Rachel: Remains from individuals who were buried at the New York African Burial Ground and individuals from the Cobb Collection were coexisting in the laboratory for some time.

Yoli: And Dr. Rachel was the one to care for the ancestors.

Rachel: The Cobb Collection was always a part of the New York African Burial Ground narrative in terms of how the laboratory was kind of holding, you know, x hundred years of the biological history of Black folks.

Yoli: And leading the New York African Burial Ground project was Michael Blakey. Dr. Rachel remembers when NAGPRA was first passed while she was working with Michael.

Rachel: I remember him taking us to one of the archaeology conferences after NAGPRA was passed. I was there, you know, kind of bearing witness as a very, very young adult, you know, kind of listening to people say, “But what about my research? I’m not going to be able to do my research,” you know, and there being Native American folks in the room, too, just kind of, you know, saying, “You know, this is not all about you and your research.” And me being really taken by the sense of entitlement of the scientists. And it seemed like there was no way for them to regard the perspective of or the significance of the remains and the artifacts outside of their scientific potential.

So, those are the sorts of things that were also a part of the way that we talked about the New York African Burial Ground. The people whose remains, they were going to be studied, but they were going to be returned and that that was according to the wishes of the descendant community.

Ora: In 2003, the ancestors were returned. They were to be reburied in ceremony.

Rachel: I participated in the rites of ancestral return. I remember being a pallbearer, if you will, for the remains as they were starting their sojourn from Howard to New York.

Ora: The ceremony included a candlelight vigil and a tribute. Each of the ancestors was laid to rest in an ornately carved coffin, housed, and then placed into a crypt. The process of transferring the individuals was called “the cradle moving.”

Ora: When Dr. Rachel returned from the service to the Cobb Collection, she saw the ancestral remains she had been studying in a completely different light.

Rachel: I found that very striking, and I thought, Wow, you know, there are some remains that are available for study for a finite amount of time. And then there are others that seem to be available for study in perpetuity.

Ora: Unlike the ancestral remains of the African Burial Ground, the ancestors in the collection did not have a plan for repatriation or reburial.

Rachel: And why is that? Keep in mind, I had been asking, “What are the motivations? What’s behind the creation, the establishment of these collections?” And so, I kind of thought about how there were all of these ideas around ethics tied to making sure that the remains from the New York African Burial Ground were reinterred. But there didn’t seem to be the same issue for the Cobb Collection. And, you know, why is that, and how OK is that? Are there ways that we should be thinking about these remains differently?

Yoli: Once Dr. Rachel started thinking about the power dynamics and social implications of the Cobb Collection, she wondered, Should it exist at all?

Rachel: The question of whether or not anybody’s remains should just be perpetually available for study. That’s a question that I have. And I don’t necessarily have an answer. Even though you have people in the Cobb Collection whose remains are there by consent, there are a lot that aren’t. And you know, we need to think about what that means.

Ora: And since the collection does exist and laws to enforce reburial don’t, what should we do about it?

Rachel: If we’re not talking about reburial, is there a different type of engagement that we need to be having, you know, so maybe, same as with the New York African Burial Ground, should we have communities of people involved in the generation of knowledge using these people’s remains?

Yoli: And Dr. Rachel carries this work forward in her own approach to anthropology.

Rachel: I see the work I’m doing around kind of identifying these unexamined elements of our scientific practice as a contribution toward repatriation. My agenda is to open up space for us to consider science as a social practice in ways that we have yet to explore, to really take a deeper dive into the culturalness of science and the way we do science.

Yoli: There are so many ways to learn about our histories, and it doesn’t require the disrespectful conditions of the past.

Rachel: I think that we are in process when it comes to kind of understanding how NAGPRA bears on broader repatriation policy for the remains of folks of African descent.

Ora: There is so much more work to do. We need more anthropologists of all disciplines to think creatively and expansively about our methods and practices. For Black and Indigenous people to live in a more comfortable, understanding, and safe nation, repatriation must be our future.

One of the things that this series in both the webinar and the podcast has shown me that I am really not alone as an Indigenous woman and that I’m really not in the margins. There are so many other archaeologists, BIPOC archaeologists, Black, Brown, Indigenous archaeologists, that see the same oppressions and that are speaking out about this because they see the potential for their ancestral knowledge and using their ancestral knowledge to speak about their past in a way that actually means something to them. You know, for many years in going through higher ed, I felt super isolated and then coming into a space as a mother, as a woman, I see that there are so many other people who are passionate about the same things that I am and that are looking to provide or at least facilitate that connection for future generations. And that just makes my heart happy. It’s been really beautiful listening to these other stories, and I’ve drawn so much inspiration from you, Yoli, especially from you in how you’ve articulated yourself about the future and what you’re learning. That has been so just valuable for me as an archaeologist and as an Indigenous person.

Yoli: Oh, and thank you so much, Ora. Kind of bringing it back to the beginning here, you know, when we first met and understanding what it really meant to be an archaeologist and that you had shown your practices, and I was able to see that right as I was coming into my own learning. And so, without you and without your generation of Indigenous archaeologists, this new generation could not be.

Ora: Something that, you know, my colleague and friend Sonya Atalay speaks of and has written about is this sort of analogy of braiding knowledges, right? And it just strengthens what we know. All of this knowledge that’s being created really is braiding knowledges so that who we are and that our communities have this strong core that they can build from and that they can use to just go further than we were able to.

Just thinking about Dr. Kisha and her story, I think, was something that has really stood out to me. The trauma, right? There is this sort of trauma blanket that is thrown over our people so that in a lot of the research that we see, it’s a victimization of our people.

Dr. Kisha Supernant: I want to reclaim our stories for our futures and for our children to learn about the vibrant and amazing lives of our ancestors and not just the traumas that we’ve experienced.

Ora: Our communities have survived all of this, and in looking at that survivance, right, is what and who we really are. And so, if we apply that to archaeology and we look at all of these experiences, the daily life of our people, of our communities, we see that it moves beyond this trauma, and our communities have what I call “Indigenuity.” And they’ve been able to survive and to thrive. That means so much, right? And to create this picture, these stories for future generations so that our children can look back at these histories with pride and to build from that, that has so much potential to help heal and to transform our communities.

Yoli: To be able to look back into the past and to interpret our histories the way that we would like to, we can pull away from that prehistory-history divide that has really done us more harm than good.

I absolutely love all of the insights that Sven brought to our conversation, and something that always sticks out to me is: How do we bring that information back home?

Dr. Sven Haakanson: Well, I mean, for me, the future of archaeology is ensuring that you’re collaborating with the communities and engaging with them. I think if done right, can be really enriching for both the archaeologists and the communities. So, you know, building relationships and finding ways to engage together and collaborate together, not just go and consult.

Yoli: All of the belongings and ancestors, they are in the museum, they’re owned by the museum. Try as we may, as far as NAGPRA goes, they are owned by the museum. The knowledge within them is ours to use as we can. And so, to be able to go to the museums, to be able to learn from the objects and learn from the knowledge that is held within those objects, then bring those home, I think is something that is going to be so beautiful for archaeology.

Ora: So, when we think about Dr. Peggy’s story, one of the things that stood out to me the most, this idea that these histories, these BIPOC histories, these Black and Indigenous histories are everyone’s histories. Most of the time we hear sort of the opposite in archaeology that archaeology is humanity’s history. Therefore, we have to study it in a very sort of intrusive and disrespectful way. But Dr. Peggy is speaking about this in a way that all of us need to be responsible. And I appreciate the angle that she’s coming from.

Dr. Peggy Brunache: It is everyone’s history, and it should be necessary, it should be required learning for all and not a one-page study in the history book. It should not be a one-month situation out of the year. It should be all the time, everywhere, ubiquitous for all to learn and learn from.

Yoli: The reason why we don’t necessarily want to even talk about Black history because it’s a history of violence, right? But that same violence is something that we need to reckon with and contend with every single day. And so, if we can come together and understand that this is everybody’s history, that’s something that we can learn from and heal from together.

Thank you so much to everyone for listening and incorporating some of these stories into your everyday.

Ora: It’s just been really great to hold this space with one another and to honor the stories of our shared past. And I just want to remind you that the future is Black and Indigenous. And again, I want to thank you for holding space with us as we burn the colonial legacies of anthropology’s past.

Yoli: Thank you so much, Ora. And thank you to all of our guests. It has truly been an honor to be your co-host.

Ora: Keep at it, everyone, we’ll get there.

Yoli: This episode of SAPIENS was hosted by me, Yoli Ngandali.

Ora: And me, Ora Marek-Martinez.

Ora: SAPIENS is produced by House of Pod. Jeanette Harris-Courts is our lead producer, alongside producer Juliette Luini and story editor Rebecca Mendoza Nunziato. Jason Paton is our audio editor and sound designer, and Cat Jaffee and Dr. Chip Colwell are our executive producers.

SAPIENS is an editorially independent podcast funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, which has provided vital support. Our thanks to Dr. Danilyn Rutherford, Maugha Kenny, and their staff, board, and advisory council. This season was also created in collaboration with the Indigenous Archaeology Collective and Society of Black Archaeologists, with special help from our advisers Dr. Sara Gonzalez, Justin Dunnavant, and Ayana Flewellen.

Yoli: This episode was made possible by our guest, Dr. Rachel, as well as the generous financial support of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, with additional support by the University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology.

Ora: And there were so many other sponsors who made this special season possible.

Yoli: Should we thank them all again?

Ora: Yes, they deserve our recognition.

Yoli: OK, get ready.

Ora: The Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Yoli: UC–San Diego’s Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology. The University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.

Ora: The Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology at Brown University. UMass-Boston’s Fiske Center for Archaeological Research.

Yoli: UC-Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility, and finally, our friends at the Imago Mundi Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas.

Ora: What a list! We’re so appreciative of their support. Thank you. Tʼáá íiyisíí ahéheeʼ.

Yoli: Thank you so much, we really appreciate your support.

Yoli: Thanks always to Christine Weeber and everyone at Please be sure to visit the magazine for the newest stories about the human experience.

Ora: SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. For more information, visit and check out the additional resources we offer in the show notes.

Yoli: And did you know that the Archaeological Center’s coalition is partnering with us to go deeper on what you just heard with companion episodes? You can find these extended discussions with academics and students about reshaping archaeological practice on their website and any podcatcher by searching for Cornell University’s RadioCIAMS. That’s RadioC-I-A-M-S.


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