The Return of the Ahayu:da: Lessons for Repatriation from Zuni Pueblo and the Smithsonian Institution

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  • This article was written by three individuals who played central roles in negotiations leading to repatriation of the Ahayu:da from the Smithsonian Institution to the Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico. The authors include: William L. Merrill, a curator in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History; Edmund J. Ladd, a Zuni anthropologist; and T. J. Ferguson, a consulting anthropologist hired by the Pueblo of Zuni.
  • In the prelude to their historical overview, the authors identify 1846 as a significant year for both of the parties involved in the repatriation process: the Smithsonian Institution was established that year, and in the same year the United States asserted political control over what later became the territory of New Mexico. The first Smithsonian expedition to arrive at Zuni came in 1879. It was led by James Stevenson, who was accompanied by his wife, Matilda Coxe Stevenson, and Frank Hamilton Cushing. They amassed large numbers of Zuni items, which, combined with those acquired from other collectors over the years, expanded the Smithsonian's anthropological collections to more than 10,000 Zuni objects. This article concerns two of those objects, 100-year-old wooden images of the twin gods, Ahayu:da, and details the nine-year process of repatriating them to the Zuni of western New Mexico in 1987.
  • The authors present a definitive history of the lengthy negotiations involved between the Smithsonian Institution and the Pueblo of Zuni; this is followed by each author's personal perspectives of the events. They analyze why the negotiations were successful, note mistakes that were made, and offer views on how the process could have been improved. They conclude by evaluating the applicability of this case to the repatriation of Native American religious objects in general, and credit the increased pace of repatriations to passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.
  • The article includes comments written by eight of the authors' colleagues: Elizabeth Cruwys, Alan S. Downer, Christian F. Feest, Charlotte J. Frisbie, Joyce Herold, Schuyler Jones, Robert Layton, and Larry J. Zimmerman. A joint Reply from the three authors concludes the article.


  • Stevenson, James
  • Stevenson, Matilda Coxe 1850-1915
  • Cushing, Frank Hamilton 1857-1900
  • Downer, Alan S
  • Feest, Christian F
  • Frisbie, Charlotte Johnson
  • Jones, Schuyler 1930-
  • Layton, Robert 1944-
  • Zimmerman, Larry J. 1947-
  • Cruwys, E (Elizabeth)
  • Herold, Joyce
  • National Collections
  • National Museum of the American Indian (U.S.)
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Dept. of Anthropology


Smithsonian History Bibliography


The article includes one Table and seven Figures, which include six photographs. It provides a "List of Unpublished Materials Consulted," which spans the years from 1970 through 1993, and includes a "References Cited" section.

Contained within

Current Anthropology Vol. 34, No. 5 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


December 1993


  • Scientific expeditions
  • Policies
  • Antiquities
  • Religion
  • Ethnology
  • Anthropology
  • Zuni Pueblo
  • Museums
  • Physical anthropology
  • Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990
  • Archaeology
  • Artifacts
  • Historians
  • Repatriation
  • Transfers
  • Expeditions
  • Indians of North America
  • Indians of North America--Museums
  • Zuni Indians
  • Pueblo Indians
  • Religious articles


  • Southwest, New
  • New Mexico
  • North America

Physical description

Number of pages : 45; Page numbers : 523-567

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