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Home Working with Section 106 ACHP Case Digest Summer 2002 Texas: Excavation at Buckeye Knoll, Victoria
Texas: Excavation at Buckeye Knoll, Victoria
Agency: Army Corps of Engineers
In a controversial case outside of Victoria, Texas, the Army Corps of Engineers has uncovered the largest Early Archaic cemetery (ca. 5,000 B.C.) found west of the Mississippi. The archeological community considers the human remains of exceptional scientific importance and has called for their full analysis.
Several Indian tribes, however, believe the cemetery is a sacred site and that the remains should not be analyzed but reinterred. The Corps must weigh the need for scientific study of human remains against the need to respect the concerns of descendants.
In 2001, the Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District undertook an archeological investigation of the National Register-eligible Buckeye Knoll site, as part of the Section 106 review process prior to enlarging a channel in Victoria, Texas. During the dig, the agency encountered numerous prehistoric burials, and by the time the excavations concluded, the remains of 79 individuals had been removed from the site.
Excavation at Buckeye Knoll, near Victoria, TX (photo courtesy of Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District and Coastal Environments, Inc.)
The work was carried out under the terms of a Programmatic Agreement executed in 1990 among the Corps, the Texas State Historic Preservation Officer, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). For reasons not yet clear to ACHP, potentially interested Indian tribes and ACHP were not consulted.
Because the excavations were on private land, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act does not apply in this case. Under the National Historic Preservation Act and ACHPs Section 106 regulations, however, Federal agencies should consult with interested Indian tribes before excavating historic properties significant to those tribes. But such consultation did not take place until after nearly 80 disinterments, which uncovered one of the three largest early cemeteries with preserved human remains in North America. The Corps moved the remains and artifacts to temporary storage to prevent damage from exposure and vandalism.
Beginning in February 2002, the Corps and the owner of the land that contains the cemetery, the DuPont Corporation, have met with the Texas State Historic Preservation Officer, four federally recognized Indian tribes, the Society for American Archaeology, and the Texas Archeological Society. They also held a well-attended public meeting for persons interested in the case, and two local historic commissions have requested additional public meetings.
The Corps and some members of the preservation community, including the State Historic Preservation Officer, consider the Early Archaic find of exceptional scientific importance and would like to see the human remains fully analyzed because they provide a unique opportunity for archeologists to answer questions about health, diet, and lifeways of Early Archaic populations in North America.
Indian tribes, however, point out that the Corps should have consulted with them before removing Native American human remains from the site. The tribes object to the proposed analyses, which would destroy small portions of bone, and have requested that the remains be reinterred. They also raise the concern that the human remains are from a portion of Buckeye Knoll that will not be affected by the proposed Victoria Channel project.
In June, 2002, as a result of requests from both Indian tribes and local historical commissions, ACHP informed the Corps that it would participate in consultation, and asked the agency for a status report on the case. The Corps is compiling the information requested by ACHP and plans to make its recommendation on the treatment and disposition of the remains and artifacts by the end of the summer. This proposal will be provided for review to all parties.
Under the terms of the 1990 Programmatic Agreement, the Corps must weigh the need for scientific study of human remains against the need to respect the concerns of descendants. If a dispute arises, ACHP will make recommendations to the Corps on how to proceed.
Staff contact: Carol Gleichman
Updated November 8, 2002
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