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Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

Indian artifacts poisoned in storage

October 1, 2000

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— Arriving at the Ivy League school's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which owns the largest collection of American Indian remains outside the Smithsonian, officials suggested he don a pair of gloves and a dust mask before sifting through the collection.

"That's when I found out some of the artifacts had been contaminated," said Hostler, a director of the Hoopa museum and a ceremonial leader of the tribe, which has 4,000 members and an 89,000-acre reservation about 40 miles outside the northern California coastal city of Eureka.

Two years later, Hostler and fellow Indians across the United States remain unsettled by the notion that human remains and sacred objects being returned to them under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act may be poisoned with heavy metals and pesticides that were used as preservatives.

On Friday, representatives of California's 110 tribes began arriving at San Francisco State University for a three-day workshop aimed at raising awareness of the potential health risks that scientists consider especially acute because many of the artifacts steeped in spiritual significance have been or will be returned to their traditional use.

Pesticides and other toxins, including mercury and arsenic, have been routinely used on all kinds of artifacts to preserve them and keep insects away, with the idea that the objects would only be displayed under glass. But that changed when the repatriation act, passed in 1990, required museums to return headdresses and other regalia to their rightful tribal owners.

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