Professor Lynn Meskell, Director, Stanford Archaeology Center
Now in Policy Details
Establishes policy and procedure for the preservation and treatment of human skeletal remains, assuring respect for the individual and descendent communities. Defines responsibilities for management and oversight related to skeletal collections.
Stanford University honors diverse beliefs about the humanity and sacredness of ancestral remains. Stanford maintains a small collection of human skeletal remains. These remains reveal valuable information about the human condition, past and present. As research methods advance over time, they will continue to yield new information. These human skeletal remains are also critical for teaching students of anthropology, anatomy, biology, medicine, paleontology, and allied disciplines (replicas lack the detail and variation seen in real bones). At the same time, human skeletal remains often have great significance for affiliated individuals and groups in the present. We have therefore established this policy for the management of all archaeological skeletal remains at Stanford University with the goal of harmonizing our core missions of research and teaching with our important responsibilities as sensitive and respectful caretakers of human remains.
Archaeological skeletal remains in the custody of Stanford University will be made available for campus teaching and research subject to the following three general conditions:
- The remains will be preserved in appropriate physical conditions.
- The remains will be treated respectfully.
- The disposition and use of the remains is in accordance with any agreements made with descendant communities, such as through federal and state Native American Graves Protection Acts (NAGPRA).
Further details on each of these three points are provided below, along with the oversight mechanism, and the manner in which new discoveries of skeletal remains on Stanford property will be handled, and the scope and priority of this policy.
Primary responsibility for skeletal remains at Stanford is assigned to a Curator of Osteological Materials. In recognition of the sensitive nature of some skeletal materials, Stanford policy provides for three interlocking levels of oversight on these processes: the Director of the Archaeology Center, the Dean of Research, and a specially constituted Human Skeletal Remains Oversight Committee (HSROC). The intent of this oversight mechanism is to ensure that all key decisions regarding skeletal remains are carefully considered from a broad range of perspectives.
The preservation of the skeletal materials in Stanford’s care shall be a primary concern in decisions regarding their management. Use of skeletal remains in teaching and research must be carried out so as to minimize damage to the human remains. Anyone who is to handle the remains must first be instructed as to the proper methods for doing so. The human remains must be stored in a secure facility, and their usage supervised to ensure that they are handled appropriately.
Destructive analysis or other activities subjecting human skeletal material to considerable risk of damage will only be permitted under special circumstances, when the knowledge gained clearly outweighs the loss of material. Even then, the destruction must be limited, and all appropriate steps taken to minimize the loss of material. The Curator of Osteological Materials and Archaeology Center Director must jointly approve any proposals for destructive analysis of archaeological human skeletal remains. If the Curator of Osteological Materials and Director do not agree over whether to approve the proposed analysis, or if either party feels that the request is potentially sensitive, they will refer the matter to the Human Skeletal Remains Oversight Committee (HSROC). If either the Curator of Osteological Materials or the Archaeology Center Director is proposing or involved in destructive analysis, the matter will be referred to the HSROC.
Primary responsibility for preservation of skeletal remains is vested in the Curator of Osteological Materials, with oversight provided by the Director of the Archaeology Center, and ultimate oversight provided by the HSROC (see section 6, below).
4. Ensuring Respectful Treatment
Human bones represent deceased individual human beings. Stanford University’s policy is therefore that all human skeletal remains will be treated respectfully, and in accordance with any agreements that may exist with specific descendant communities. “Respectful treatment” includes, at a minimum, the following restrictions:
- Recent archaeological human skeletal remains should not be put on public display
- Photography of such remains is restricted to that necessary for educational and research purposes
- Those involved in handling human skeletal remains will be educated regarding what constitutes respectful treatment
In short, all reasonable precautions will be taken to avoid unnecessary offense while enhancing the educational and research missions of the university. Primary responsibility for ensuring respectful treatment of skeletal remains is vested in the Curator of Osteological Materials, with oversight provided by the Director of the Archaeology Center, and ultimate oversight provided by the Human Skeletal Remains Oversight Committee (see section 6, below).
5. Descendant Communities
Stanford University honors and respects traditional beliefs regarding the sacred nature of ancestral human remains, such as those of many Native American groups. Descendant communities have a right to control the disposition of their ancestral remains, as is specified in both federal and state law. Stanford University follows repatriation processes to provide descendant communities with legal control over human skeletal remains. One process is that specified in the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 USC § 3001ff), another that specified by the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (California Health & Safety Code §8010-803). Stanford University follows these repatriation processes in consultation with potential descendant communities in order to provide proper legal control over ancestral remains to affiliated descendants. Repatriation decisions are made by the Provost. All repatriation requests, whether under the NAGPRA laws or not, will be handled seriously and respectfully by the Office of the Provost, subject to prior consultation with the Curator of Osteological Materials, the Director of the Archaeology Center, the Human Skeletal Remains Oversight Committee, and the Dean of Research.
6. Management and Oversight
The proper care and management of skeletal collections require specialized expertise combined with careful oversight. This is provided for here by having primary responsibility vested in a faculty member specializing in the study of human skeletal remains (the Curator of Osteological Materials) combined with three interlocking levels of oversight: the Director of the Archaeology Center, the Dean of Research, and the Human Skeletal Remains Oversight Committee (HSROC). In the event that no faculty member has the appropriate expertise in osteology, the Director of the Archaeology Center will propose a Curator from existing faculty or staff, subject to the approval of the HSROC.
The Curator of Osteological Materials will be a member of the Stanford Academic Council and affiliated with the Archaeology Center. The Provost will appoint the Curator of Osteological Materials to an indefinite term of service. The position is unpaid, but departments will consider it as the equivalent of two committee memberships for purposes of evaluating service commitments.
The Curator of Osteological Materials bears primary responsibility for managing skeletal remains at Stanford, and will provide advice and input on any issues related to skeletal materials at Stanford. Initial oversight of the Curator of Osteological Materials will be provided by the Director of the Archaeology Center. The Curator of Osteological Materials is responsible for advising the Director regarding any potentially problematic or sensitive situations involving Stanford archaeological human skeletal remains. The Dean of Research will, in turn, oversee both the Curator of Osteological Materials and Director of the Archaeology Center regarding decisions involving skeletal remains.
While day-to-day management is the responsibility of these parties, oversight is provided by a HSROC. The HSROC consists of four Stanford faculty members, including those with some knowledge of skeletal materials so as to provide effective oversight. To insure independence of oversight, at least two members must not be affiliated with the Stanford Archaeology Center, and at least one member must be a faculty member from outside Anthropology. The Curator of Osteological Materials and the Archaeology Center Director are nonvoting members. HSROC members are appointed by the Dean of Research.
The Curator of Osteological Materials will submit an annual report to the HSROC summarizing all activity with Stanford’s collections of archaeological human skeletal remains in the preceding year, and reporting on the status of the collections. The HSROC will review the report for compliance with this policy, and vote whether to accept or reject the report. In the event of a rejected report, the HSROC will institute additional procedures to ensure future compliance with this policy, subject to the approval of the Dean of Research. The HSROC also serves as the arbitrator of any disagreements between the Curator of Osteological Materials and the Director of the Archaeology Center regarding skeletal remains (as specified above). If the same person holds both the Curator of Osteological Materials and the Director of the Archaeology Center positions, the HSROC assumes the duties assigned in this policy to the Director of the Archaeology Center.
Teaching and research use of skeletal remains that is clearly not damaging to the collection, is in accord with any agreements made with affiliated groups and is legal, does not require special approval if conducted under the auspices of an appropriately qualified Academic Council faculty member. The determination of which Academic Council faculty have the appropriate qualifications to carry out and supervise such research is subject to the initial determination of the Curator of Osteological Materials. The Director of the Archaeology Center must approve the Curator of Osteological Materials’ determinations, and maintain a list of currently approved Stanford faculty. Access to the collections by non-Stanford parties must be based on a written proposal approved by both the Curator of Osteological Materials and the Archaeology Center Director. Any uncertainties or disagreements between the Curator of Osteological Materials and the Director of the Archaeology Center regarding proper usage and/or qualifications will be referred to the HSROC.
7. New Discoveries of Human Skeletal Remains
The above policy pertains to existing collections of human skeletal materials held at Stanford University. However, excavations on Stanford property periodically expose new skeletal remains. Their treatment is largely a matter of California state law. Specifically, Public Resources Code 5097.9-5097.991 mandates that the disposition of human skeletal remains be determined in consultation with the state-identified most likely descendant. Stanford will work in partnership with the state-identified most likely descendant with the goal of reaching an agreement that honors the wishes of the descendant community and advances teaching and research. Responsibility for dealing with discoveries made in connection with construction projects is the duty of the Campus Archaeologist, under the authority of the Provost. Whenever construction projects disturb archaeological human remains of any kind, the Campus Archaeologist will notify the Archaeology Center Director and Curator of Osteological Materials immediately.
This policy, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 USC § 3001ff), and the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (California Health & Safety Code § 8010-8030) together constitute Stanford’s current policy on archaeological human skeletal remains.
Current Version: 03.27.09
Original Version: 03.27.09