Reckoning With the Dead -- The Larsen Bay Repatriation and the Smithsonian Institution

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  • This volume is an important documentary record of a turning point in the history of American anthropology which mandated the development of a new set of guiding principles and federal laws regarding repatriation of human remains and mortuary artifacts. The editors have formatted 18 authoritative articles into a very readable explanation of the background and issues involved to present their four-part case study of a repatriation request made in 1987 to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. The various authors discuss developments ensuing over the next several years which ultimately led to Smithsonian Secretary Robert McC. Adams granting the request, thus allowing reburial of the skeletal and mortuary collection in October 1991.
  • The case involves the human remains of almost 1,000 individuals, along with mortuary artifacts, brought to the Smithsonian in the 1930's from Larsen Bay, on Alaska's Kodiak Island, by Alěs Hrdlička, curator of the U. S. Museum of Natural History from 1910 to 1941. A Czech native, Hrdlička traveled widely to collect skeletal remains and established the Smithsonian's world-renowned physical anthropology collections. Seen as a tireless worker but peculiar figure in his own time, Hrdlička was viewed after his 1943 death in a more controversial light, partly due to his failure to use proper archaeological techniques, but more so because of his callous disregard for the human remains found and for their living Larsen Bay ancestors. The "Chronology of Events" at the beginning of the book is especially useful.


  • Hrdlička, Aleš
  • Adams, Robert McCormick 1926-2018
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • United States National Museum


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography



Contact information

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




  • Acquisitions
  • Antiquities
  • Freedom of religion
  • Secretaries
  • Human remains (Archaeology)
  • Anthropology
  • Employees
  • Museums
  • Physical anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Funeral rites and ceremonies
  • Repatriation
  • Collectors and collecting
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Civil rights
  • Collection and preservation
  • Moral and ethical aspects
  • National Collections
  • Koniagmiut Eskimos
  • Federal Government, Relations with SI
  • Koniagmiut Eskimos--Funeral customs and rites
  • Koniagmiut Eskimos--Civil rights
  • Koniagmiut Eskimos--Antiquities--Collection and preservation
  • Archaeology--Moral and ethical aspects
  • Eskimos
  • Biography
  • Museums--Acquisitions
  • Museum curators
  • Anthropologists
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees


  • United States
  • Alaska
  • Washington (D.C.)
  • Larsen Bay (Kodiak Island)

Physical description

194 pages

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