The Whiteford Site, or Indian Burial Pit: A Smoky Hill Phase Cemetery in Saline County

By O'Shea, John M. | Plains Anthropologist, May 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Whiteford Site, or Indian Burial Pit: A Smoky Hill Phase Cemetery in Saline County


O'Shea, John M., Plains Anthropologist


The Whiteford Site, or Indian Burial Pit: A Smoky Hill Phase Cemetery in Saline County. By DONNA C. ROPER. Anthropological Series Number 18, Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas, 2006. xvi + 366 pages, 156 figs, 45 tables, bibliography, paper ($25).

Reviewed by John M. O'Shea, Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48 1 09- 1 079, joshea@umich.edu

The Whiteford site, variously known as the Salina Burial Pit, the Indian Burial Pit, the Price site, or simply as 14SA 1, is a central Plains tradition burial locality in central Kansas. It is also the type site for the Smoky Hill phase of the central Plains tradition. The site was first encountered during homestead excavation in 1873, and was rediscovered in 1936. It was subsequently excavated by the land owners and preserved in place as a local tourist attraction. It continued in this use until 1 989, when the site was purchased by the State of Kansas and was reburied in 1990.

This volume was initiated as a final technical report in the now familiar process of documenting archaeological features and artifacts which have been reburied. In accepting the assignment, Donna Roper found herself with not one, but at least four different stories to tell, each with its own complexities and lessons. In addition to the routine documentation of the now lost archaeological collections, there was the story of the farm family that excavated and preserved the site as a tourist attraction, and a fascinating story of the origins of modern Plains Archaeology as illustrated by the early involvement of Waldo Wedel and the origins of the Smoky Hill phase of the central Plains tradition. Finally, there is the story of the so called 'Treaty of Smoky Hill' and the politics of human remains and repatriation.

The volume is divided into three parts: Part I, The Context and History of the Whiteford Site, (chapters 1 through 4); Part II, Site Description and Analysis, (chapters 5 through 10); and Part III, Synthesis (chapters 11 through 13).

Some of the most engaging writing in the volume is found in Part I (and the earlier portions of Part II). Roper presents an account of the site's excavation and conservation by Mabel and Guy Whiteford that is sympathetic and nuanced. Despite their lack of formal training, the Whiteford's conducted and recorded their excavations to a standard that was at least as good as that found in the records of most contemporary Plains archaeologists. They also actively consulted with the archaeological authorities of their day, and by and large followed the advice they received. Roper's description of the Whiteford's will elicit memories of other self taught amateurs encountered during field archaeology. Living in remote rural areas, they are eager to show what they have done and anxious to hear what we supposedly better trained professionals can tell them.

The account of Waldo Wedel's involvement with the Indian Burial Pit site is fascinating as it not only profiles the origins of the Smoky Hill phase in Kansas, but also profiles the young Wedel and his gradual parting of interpretive ways from William Duncan Strong. In the account of the origins of the Smoky Hill phase, the narrative provides a present at birth view of the early Plains Archaeology; including the efforts to fit Plains sites within the Midwestern Taxonomic System (MTS), the struggle between phases and foci as the 'new' Willey and Philips system of classification was invoked and, ultimately, the futility of trait lists for understanding the more anthropological aspects of identity and relationship in the past.

The remainder of Part II is a more typical 'report', with clear descriptions of the excavations and the individual features within the site. The description was made difficult by the fact that all of the materials, artifacts and human remains, were reburied in 1990 and not available to Roper for direct examination. The artifacts had been documented prior to reburial, but any analysis of the human remains that required them to be lined from the ground (where they had been exposed for over 50 years) was prohibited.

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