Hopewell Culture
Administrative History
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Exhibiting the Hopewell Culture (continued)

Attempts to Retrieve Squier and Davis' Collection

The earliest public information describing the array of artifacts excavated by E. G. Squier and E. H. Davis from the Mound City Group in 1846 came in the form of a scholarly 1848 publication initiating the "Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge" series called Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. While the narrative did not fully detail the extent of the Mound City Group collection, it did indicate that the Hopewellian artifacts were numerous and of great detail and scientific interest to the nascent field of archeology. Edwin H. Davis ended up with the bulk of the artifacts following his professional split from Ephraim Squier, and Davis continued high-profile activities in prehistoric antiquities.

Unsuccessful in his efforts to sell the 1300-piece Mound City Group collection to the Smithsonian Institution or the New York Historical Society, Davis prepared a catalog featuring his cumulative collections and placed them up for sale on the open market. The catalog included not only Ohio antiquities, but those from his excavations in Peru, Central America, and Denmark as well. Davis preferred having the collection remain in the United States, but no American institution came forward to make a serious monetary offer.

In 1864, Davis sold the antiquities for $10,000 to William Blackmore, founder of the Blackmore Museum in Salisbury, England. In 1931, the Mound City Group or "Davis" collection changed hands again, sold to the British Museum, while the Peruvian and Central American artifacts went to Cambridge University and the Denmark specimens remained at the Salisbury-South Wiltshire Museum (formerly the Blackmore Museum). [1]

Both Henry C. Shetrone and Erwin C. Zepp of the Ohio Historical Society viewed the artifacts in England, with Shetrone obtaining several casts of effigy pipes in the late 1930s. University of Michigan scholar James B. Griffin studied the collection in 1954, but his observations were never published. With development of the Mound City Group National Monument during the National Park Service's MISSION 66 program, the agency expressed its own desire to study the Davis collection, and to compare it with artifacts unearthed in annual excavations beginning in 1963.

A partner in those excavations, the Ohio Historical Society in 1965 sent Curator of Archeology Raymond Baby and staff archeologist Martha Potter to the British Museum where they spent twenty days studying the Mound City Group collection, meticulously measuring and drawing each artifact. Less than two dozen effigy pipes were actually on public display while the other cache of pipes were wrapped in their seven original cloth bags stored in ten wooden boxes in a locked basement room. They discovered fragments comprising two pots, and assorted other artifacts with their accompanying provenance data. Baby and Potter were able to determine that the 1847 account only partially described the collection's actual extent. [2]

In 1958, Regional Archeologist John L. Cotter recommended the National Park Service actively pursue seeking the return of the Mound City Group collection from the British Museum. Cotter believed the agency had a "good chance" working through the secretary of the Interior and the Department of State to obtain the artifacts. Cotter did not mention the terms, be it goodwill or financial recompense, to negotiate for such a "return." Because the museum complex had been dropped from the MISSION 66 program at the time of Cotter's recommendation, the agency took no official action. [3]

In 1959, the Dayton Art Institute sought a "temporary return" of the prehistoric art pieces. On July 7, 1959, Institute Director Thomas C. Colt requested the assistance of Secretary of State Christian W. Herter to expedite the loan request for a special exhibit planned on the Hopewell and Adena cultures. The Eisenhower administration apparently did not take substantive action on the Dayton request. [4]

The 1965 England trip of Raymond Baby and Martha Potter sparked a renewed interest in seeking the return of the Squier and Davis collection. Baby reported that most of the items were uncleaned and unrestored. He found three provenance ledgers and the 1864 sale memorandum of agreement on file at the Salisbury facility. While in England, Baby understood from Adrian Digby, British Museum Head Keeper of the Ethnographic Section, that a six-month loan could be arranged. Surprisingly, British Museum officials denied Baby's formal request to clean, record, photograph, and display the materials at the Ohio State Museum. The news prompted Acting Mid-Atlantic Regional Director George A. Palmer to request help from the Washington Office, stating,

Due to the fact that there are only a few artifacts from the several pre-National Park Service excavations at Mound City Group presently on display or otherwise available at the area, we suggest that the Service make a definite effort to initiate formal action presumably through the State Department, to obtain the Squire [sic] and Davis artifacts from Mound City for the National Park Service, preferably as a permanent acquisition for study and display purposes. Such an acquisition, we believe, is more than warranted by the historical importance, as well as the scientific significance of the Squire [sic] and Davis collection. [5]

Headquarters officials focused their hopes on the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and its interest in the collection because of volume one of the "Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge" series. During the summer of 1966, Smithsonian employees visited London and during the course of their work, urged British Museum officials to enter into a loan agreement along the lines proposed by Raymond Baby. The Smithsonian's effort appeared to be only half-hearted as Anthropologist Richard B. Woodbury explained in early 1967:

I have explored at considerable length the possibility of the Smithsonian attempting to arrange a loan from the British Museum of the Hopewell pipe fragments that Ray Baby examined when he was there. The reaction I have from all sides is extremely negative. This is based on the principle that it is risky for the Smithsonian to become a third party in research activities that do not directly involve the work of one of its staff members. In this case we would have to undertake full responsibility for any work done with the Hopewell material, yet it would be only feasible for it to be done by Baby in Columbus rather than here. Our unwillingness to become involved does not stem from any lack of confidence in Baby or lack of interest in the research he contemplates with the material.

Woodbury told the National Park Service that Baby should pursue a grant to visit the British Museum and perform the study in England. [6] Chief Archeologist John M. Corbett, in conveying the bad news, admitted, "for the time being there does not seem to be much hope for getting the material back." [7]

The matter languished until General Superintendent Bill Birdsell revived it in 1973. A visit to Chillicothe by International Affairs Specialist Fred M. Packard initiated the concept of swapping other artifacts for the Mound City Group collection. Packard related an inquiry from the British Museum seeking American Southwest materials possessed by the National Park Service. Packard learned from Chief Curator Harold L. Peterson that headquarters officials were planning on asking the British Museum for their cooperation in making reproductions of their Mound City Group holdings. With the rise of American Indian cultural and political activism, however, Peterson added the following, "My only mental reservations about the display of the original objects at Mound City lie in the uncertainty the more militant members of the American Indian Movement might take towards such an exhibit. As you know, there have been some fairly strong statements about the propriety of displaying objects of religious significance or objects related to burials. To the best of my knowledge, none of this has really crystalized into a policy as yet, but there is just a possibility that these very valuable objects might be safer in England than they would be here." [8]

Hopes for a permanent swap with the British Museum per Packard's suggestion dimmed in late 1973 when Chief Historian Harry W. Pfanz opined that the Antiquities Act of 1906 prohibited the sale or trade of cultural resources obtained from federal lands. Non-federally obtained objects from private collections could still be arranged for a trade, but even the legality of that proved problemmatic. Any exchange would have to be made on a negotiated loan basis, and no formal request from the National Park Service had yet been submitted to the British Museum. [9] A few weeks later, Packard appealed to John Cripps, chairman of the Countryside Commission for England and Wales, about a loan or reproduction of British-held Mound City Group artifacts. Encouraged in learning about the renewed effort, Raymond Baby again offered the services of the Ohio Historical Society, noting that Mound City Group National Monument lacked the facilities and staff to perform the cleaning and restoration work. Baby offered to go to London at his own expense to assist in packing the artifacts for shipment. Unfortunately, news from England proved yet again negative. [10]

Fred J. Fagergren tried again in 1976. Fagergren set a personal goal of trying to arrange a return of the artifacts as part of the nation's bicentennial celebration. This effort he directed through the National Park Service's Harpers Ferry Center, the agency's central organ for museum and interpretive programs. Fagergren urged coordination again through the Washington Office's division of international affairs and to emphasize the British Museum's desire for Southwestern materials. He also recommended joining forces with the Ohio Historical Society, which had its own loan effort underway. [11]

Harpers Ferry Center Manager Marc Sagan requested National Park Service Director Gary E. Everhardt contact the new director of the British Museum, Sir John Pope-Hennessy. Sagan affirmed "It would be nice to have the whole collection, but we do not need it. In fact, if we obtained it, some would probably have to be stored in the Ohio Historical Society. If we could obtain a few representative pieces, they should be sufficient for exhibit purposes. Failing that, good casts of the originals would be a help." [12]

In mid-May 1976, the National Park Service made its first direct, high-level appeal for the Davis collection. The text of Acting Director Raymond L. Freeman's letter follows:

A century ago The British Museum showed the perspicacity to acquire the collection of Hopewell Culture artifacts excavated in Ohio by Squier and Davis. This was at a time when no institution in this country either recognized their significance or had the funds to obtain them.

The National Park Service is now designing a museum to interpret the site where these objects were found, and we wonder if it would be possible to work out an exchange for some of these artifacts or, failing that, to obtain reproductions of them. Some years ago, just before you became Director of The British Museum, we explored this possibility with some of the staff, and they indicated an interest in acquiring some artifacts from the Indian cultures of the American Southwest. We might be able to offer some such artifacts now if such an exchange is still of interest to you.

We would like to assure you that we do not subscribe to the current popular attitude that such artifacts ought by right to be returned to the place of their origin. After all, if it were not for the foresight of The British Museum and of some Continental European museums, these objects would have been lost completely. The same is true of Classical and Near Eastern antiquities. Younger nations owe such great institutions a debt of gratitude for saving these objects. At the same time, however, we hope that you can appreciate the difficulty we face in interpreting a culture with no important artifacts whatsoever. It is because of this that we herewith broach the possible exchange, or of obtaining some casts from the originals. [13]

The response from England came in the form of a verbal exchange between the British Museum director and Harold Peterson of Everhardt's staff. Sir John Pope-Hennessy cited the British Museums Act of 1963 and subsequent British law for preventing the trade or return of artifacts. Underlying the director's concern was the fear that if one collection is returned or exchanged to its country of origin, other nations would then clamor for analogous deals. The Englishman did agree to have high quality reproductions made. [14]

Fagregren refused to accept the undocumented "no" for an answer. In September 1979, he asked Regional Director Jimmie L. Dunning for approval to reopen formal discussions "to investigate the possibility of a permanent exchange of artifacts, or an exchange based upon long-term loans." Fagregren urged the Washington Office's international affairs office to work through the State Department to secure the indefinite loans or exchanges. Fagergren asserted that recent American visitors to the British Museum reported seeing few if any Mound City Group artifacts. Some pieces did emerge every few years as part of a rotating display, but much of the collection remained in storage. [15]

The Midwest Regional Office concurred with Fagregren's position that the matter deserved to be elevated to government-to-government negotiation, but saw "very little hope for our ultimate success." The Omaha office believed that British law had not changed in regard to repatriating antiquities, and pointed out that neither the United States nor Great Britain had ratified the UNESCO convention in 1970 dealing with return of archeological materials. In the hope that different attitudes might prevail in light of new management of the British Museum, the request to re-open the issue went forward to the Washington Office. [16]

Washington officials decided against elevating the negotiation to the State Department, and instead Deputy Director Ira J. Hutchison directly requested a loan of the Davis collection in November 1979. Keeper of the British Museum's Ethnography Department M. D. McLeod immediately asked for "more detailed information about which items you wish to borrow, where these are to be exhibited, under what security and conservation conditions and for what length of time." Awaiting the receipt of such information in order to process the request, McLeod sent a copy of the museum's loan regulations and stated that all requests had to be approved by the board of trustees. [17]

Fagergren responded to McLeod's questions in general, and to his superiors expressed disappointment that a loan, rather than acquisition, was the only avenue being pursued. Fagergren's frustration also produced a letter from park files suggesting that some of the collection may have been lost or stolen, and that the museum could only have replicas. The issue seemed to contradict the professional findings of Raymond Baby and Martha Potter who viewed and studied the collection in 1965. On the surface, it appeared to be sour grapes on behalf of Fagergren, and introduction of the issue only served to cloud the difficult matter even further. [18]

Press coverage of the attempt to secure a long-term loan in mid-1980 revealed Fagergren's optimism that a deal could be struck with the British Museum. Fagergren expressed the belief that the collection could return to Mound City Group National Monument "for a few months," although he would like to have it for scientific study for five to ten years. British Museum officials were querying Fagergren on the monument's security and environmental conditions for the Davis collection. Press reports also revealed that the Ohio Historical Society's two attempts to secure a loan had both failed. [19]

British Museum curators determined the Mound City Group National Monument facilities did not pass muster, and rejected Fagergren's loan application. In late September 1982, Midwest Regional Curator John E. Hunter ventured to London to examine the Davis collection and discuss the potential loan directly. [20]

National Park Service efforts to obtain a loan failed, but the Ohio Historical Society succeeded in 1986 when 26 items were delivered in Columbus by British Museum Curator for North American Collections Jonathan King. Martha Potter Otto changed tactics in the spring of 1983 and asked for a one-year loan of a select portion of the Davis collection to be displayed in a new prehistoric Indian exhibit. It represented the first time since E. H. Davis moved to New York in 1850 that the Hopewellian artifacts had returned to Ohio. Otto affirmed that the society had not forsaken its aim of recovering the entire collection, stating, "That's always something we have in the back of our minds." [21]

Prior to the exhibit opening, Dr. Mark J. Lynott, Midwest regional archeologist, accompanied James Brown, professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, to conduct a comparative study of Mound City Group artifacts with Davis collection pieces. Brown was under contract with the National Park Service to evaluate all Mound City Group-originated artifacts. Part of Brown's work uncovered correspondence and tracings in the E. H. Davis papers collection at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. Brown obtained the materials on microfilm, and recommended professional reproduction of the sketches of never-before-seen illustrations.

Most importantly, Brown found a large-scale map of the Mound City Group earthworks, including a section excluded from the 1847-published map. Another sketch showed the central three mounds standing in an open woodlot, demonstrating the vegetation that existed prior to cultivation. A third tracing depicted two pot rim sherds used in 1847 to recreate two pots for the subsequent Smithsonian publication. It suggested that upon excavation in 1846, none of the Mound City Group pots were discovered whole. [22]

While NPS has failed to secure the return of any British-held Mound City Group artifacts, the position of the foreign museum and government finally became known. As long as federal museum facilities in Chillicothe remain substandard, even a loan of these unique artifacts cannot occur.


Last Updated: 04-Dec-2000