Grave Matters: Excavating California's Buried Past
Chartkoff, Joseph L., California History
By Tony Platt (Berkeley, CA:
Heyday Press, 2011, 256 pp.,
AN ARCHAEOLOGY OF
THE DONNER PARTY'S
ALDER CREEK CAMP
Edited by Kelly J. Dixon, Julie M.
Schablitsky, and Shannon A. Novak
(Norman: University of Oklahoma
Press, 2011, 384 pp., $34.95 cloth)
THESE BOOKS, THOUGH DIFFERENT in core subjects, objectives, and data, both represent well-written, insightful analyses about aspects of California's historic past and approaches to its exploration. Both studies include important elements involving archaeological excavation and analysis. At the surface, the parallels between the two examinations are not very obvious, but what each one illuminates about ethical research can be enlightening.
Grave Matters, by Tony Platt, who taught race relations at the University of California at Berkeley, had no prior experience with archaeology. His son died unexpectedly several years ago and the family held his funeral at their coastal Humboldt County cottage. That experience brought Platt into contact with local Native Americans and the hostile attitudes they held toward archaeologists.
Platt studied the historical development of archaeology in California. Though some perspectives are statewide, mostly he focuses on coastal Humboldt County. He learned that some of California's most important early cultural anthropologists, such as Alfred Kroebet, and archaeologists, such as Robert Heizer, showed little respect for Native American religious beliefs, values, and wishes for protection of the remains of ancestors and sacred sites. Instead, such sites were deemed sources of important scientific research data, and Native American wishes for their protection often were ignored.
Within the past several decades, such archaeological practices have been gradually changing, partly because new state and federal laws and regulations created more protection of such remains, and partly because ethical values among more recently trained archaeologists have been changing. Platt's discussion sheds light on the evolution of values and relationships between Native Americans and archaeologists, raising readers' understanding of their foundations. …