Interpretation for Archeologists   6. Issues of Sensitivity   Distance Learning

Descendant Groups

Descendant and affiliated groups and associated communities have direct lineal affiliation or personal connections with the artifacts and sites excavated by archeologists. They can play an integral role in interpreting archeological resources by providing historical context, sources of information, and guidance on appropriate and sensitive framing of narratives. Considering that these groups may feel the most keen intellectual and emotional connections to archeological resources, their involvement in the interpretive process is key to cultivating public stewardship.

It's important to acknowledge that archeology has in the past alienated descendants, affiliated groups, and associated communities. Some Native American peoples decried archeology as giving primacy to European science over their own ways of knowing. A relatively recent development in archeology is the study of traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women, children, and minorities (sex and gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation). These groups may personally relate to the histories revealed by archeology, even if they are not familial descendants, and feel a relationship or kinship with them. Archeologists who specialize in particular aspects of cultural history practice methods that engage descendant or affiliated groups or associated communities, to ensure that their perspectives are included in interpretation.

One opportunity for engaging with these groups about interpretation takes place during the consultation process. Federal preservation law, such as the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, require consultation between the NPS and descendant or affiliated peoples when undertakings have the potential to affect archeological resources. These meetings may take place with direct descendants, such as tribes, or as part of broader community outreach that is part of consultation.

Case Study

Archeology at the Robinson House
The Robinsons were an African American family who found themselves embroiled in the struggles of the nation before, during, and after the American Civil War at Manassas, Virginia. Descendants of the family living on the battlefield helped archeologists to identify features and fill in the story. Explore how archeological research, architectural studies, and oral history with the Robinsons' descendants reveal new insights into the changing lifeways of free African Americans.

For Your Information

Dongoske, Kurt E., Mark Aldenderfer, and Karen Doehner
2000 Working Together: Native Americans & Archaeologists. Society for American Archaeology, Washington, D.C.
Kuwanwisiwma, Leigh (Jenkins)
2002 Hopi Understanding of the Past: A Collaborative Approach. In Public Benefits of Archaeology, edited by Barbara J. Little, pp. 46-51. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
Swidler, Nina, Kurt Dongske and Roger Anyon, editors
1997 Native Americans and Archaeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, CA.

MJB/EJL