After 87 years in a Smithsonian collection, bones of Igiugig ancestors return home

Avery Lill, Klog, Public Radio for Alaska's Bristol Bay
September 19, 2017
"About half of Igiugig’s 69 citizens crowded into Saint Nicholas Orthodox church last week. The nave was hazy with incense as the priest conducted the funeral service in a mix of English and Yup’ik. In the center of the room sat three handmade, wooden coffins. Inside were the bones of 24 men, women and children from the now abandoned settlement of Kaskanak.

Their remains were unearthed 87 years ago by Aleš Hrdlička, who was the head of the Anthropology department in what is now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. During his 1931 trip to Bristol Bay, he likely excavated remains near Aleknagik, Ekwok, Koliganek and other communities as well.

The question of how people originally came to North America and from where drove him to dig up the bones of Native Americans all around the United States. Historians estimate that he took thousands to Washington D.C. for further research.

After more than eight decades in the museum’s collection, Igiugig’s ancestors finally returned home."

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