Is there any rock, hill or valley in North America that is not "sacred" to some Indian tribe?

Expand full comment

It must be immensely frustrating to have your chosen field of research and scholarship bogged down in the mind games of people who - in a saner culture than ours - would not be let anywhere near any scientific discipline..... you have my sympathies. The psychology of the kind of people you are up against is an amalgum of intellectual cowardice, virtue-gamesmanship.....plus probably a good measure of simple dim-wittedness. And, in my view, it is perfectly acceptable to not be precious in confronting them but rather to attack this psychology head on.....call their bent and broken mental spade a spade.

Expand full comment

“They also added that they “cannot expand the definition of human remains to include casts, 3–D scans, or other digital data, documents, or records as that would be inconsistent with the Act.”

You had me going there. 40 years ago I bumped into this at my university here in AZ. The museum gave into a request for repatriation of “Indian” pottery at that time. ASU Computer Science came to the rescue with some of the first 3-D scanning in the nation and recreation of models of pottery (in conjunction with photography) to retain most of the scientific value of the pottery at that time. No one was “woke” enough to argue about possession of images and digital data.

The value of these recovered pottery items was that they distinguished tribes from one another, time lines for occupancy of the land, migration patterns, technique advancement over time—and even the individual makers of the pots. Not to mention the beauty of the artistry and craftsmanship. These people (early Americans) were primitive, but as human as we are today wrt esthetics and appreciation for such in their meager lives. The museum and their display helped change the indian “mystique” from the movie’s portrayal of blood thirsty savages to refined—albeit primitive—people. (Think Ancient Greek vases.)

The case was made—in my mind anyway—that the tribe(s) requesting the “return” of their pottery were not even in the same local and timeline as much of the found/recovered pottery—and further, the pottery was often pieced together from historical “middens”. Yep, trash dumps. Seems the ancient indians were not so taken with these “priceless, spiritual” objects as their progeny (?) is today—assuming these hucksters are their progeny in any meaningful sense of the word.

Do I sound bitter? Yep. We are talking pottery here, not ancient bones that might belong to someone’s great-great…grandmother. These tribes have no written records about anything they say, just stories told and retold from their ancestors and passed down—and we take this as gospel. Nonsense. The written/recorded history after the white man came along is more than enough to document that there were no “original” people of most land, but simply occupants who in time moved about or were driven out by other would be “occupants”. So who has ownership? If it’s the last people on the land, then it’s the white man.

Expand full comment

You raise a good point because, as I understand the matter, many of the anthropological remains turning up these days put serious doubts into the notion of Amerind racial continuity. That is, it's highly uncertain that the remains in many cases are even related to the groups whites were encountering in the 15th-19th c.

Now of course every group has a right to define itself as they see fit. But it's difficult to envision a right to extend such a self-conception backwards infinitely as regards a parcel of land, as many of these seizures seem to imply.

As you hint at the end, such a concept can make sense only if aimed at present rule.

Expand full comment

The text book example would be Kennewick Man:


The whole ridiculous mess can be summarized/illustrated in this one case. Science taking a backseat to “wokeness”.

Expand full comment

Damn this sucks I wish you the best in deal with this nonsense

Expand full comment

It's a damn shame that these things are happening. Still, there's really no substitute for moral and cultural confidence, and for two important reasons, framing this issue in terms of a conflict between religion and science isn't helpful.

The first is that there's really no such thing as a living society that doesn't view at least parts of its past, its deceased, its heritage as sacrosanct when it comes to reductive study. Societies differ, of course, on where to draw these lines, and the history of this subject ought to give us pause in where to see associations among politics, religion, and science. Take polygenism, which the author too facilely dismisses; it's actually a pretty good working hypothesis where the lines of a natural history aren't clear. It was also, for a long time in the 18th c, the more "scientific" proposition - people like Voltaire argued for it on precisely anti-religious grounds -- biblical moral imperatives required that a common ancestry be traceable, at least in principle. Putatively more religious people (Kames, fr instance) who advocated for its truth had to wade into (often unorthodox) scriptural interpretation to support their case publicly.

Now, pace Kames or Voltaire, one wants to say none of this should be relevant in the question of scientific truth. But somehow it always *is*, largely because the metaphysics, religion is determinative of what one thinks is being studied.

This brings me to the second point, which is that I think it's a mistake to say that these activist-enabling anthropologists "don't believe in objective truth." This would be the case if they took native animistic tales cynically. But they don't; they take them as part of a social theodicy. Were this simply a case of "these rocks hold my ancestors' spirits," the natives' pleas would have been summarily dismissed decades ago. However, the fact of such past dismissals itself exercises a deep metaphysical pull on the post-Christian imagination. A Christian will place certain limitations on exhumations, defiling of corpses, etc., because he will tell you that a person is not just an assemblage of organs. The wokist is burdened by no such limitations, and views them as superstitions. But if the superstitions in question belong to a victim group, they are sublimated, and become part of a history of moral redemption. That history IS -- to a wokist -- what humanity means.

In a practical sense what this means is that no one is getting to those remains until the woke "theodicy" is knocked down and replaced with something else.

Expand full comment

People are one thing, non-human or even animal objects another. I’ll discribe more in an original post.

Expand full comment

I'd agree, of course, but I am a Christian. I'll wait to see what you say. Cheers.

Expand full comment

The problem is not primarily religion.

You have to look at this issue from the perspective of Piagetian developmental psychology and the structural-genetic theory of Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff.

These people are at a preformal stage of development. Their thinking corresponds in every detail to the thinking of children. It is not at all possible for these people to think logically and consistently. At this stage, religion is an inevitable by-product.

Such people must be offered a space in which they can lead a life that corresponds to their low level of cognitive development. But just as you can't allow young children to do everything they want, you have to set them tough, clear boundaries. They have absolutely no place in science.

It is a disaster that science and politics allow themselves to be tyrannized by people who are at the cognitive developmental level of young children. And it is a testimony to the catastrophic stupidity of many scientists who haven't the slightest idea about developmental psychology and are digging their own grave with their hypermorality.

Expand full comment

The notion that modern tribes have cultural and geographic continuity stretching back to the Paleoindian period is absurd.

Some 19th-Century Europeans also incorrectly projected their newly-created national identities into the distant past, but at least they didn’t get in the way of data collection, allowing later scientists and historians to correct their myth-making and motivated reasoning.

Expand full comment

Thanks for an interesting article.

The history of science is replete with examples of religion hindering its progress. Another current example is on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, where thirteen telescopes are located, much to Hawaiians' consternation and occasional protest.

Expand full comment

Humanity has a bad track record of desecrating burial sites in the search for knowledge.

Archaeology should be done with the preservation of the past in mind.

If you must dig out a burial site, be careful, notate your discovery, and show respect by returning the dead to the ground where you found them. They don't need to be displayed in museums; photos are enough.

Expand full comment

Same thing in Canada, and also (I read) in New Zealand.

Expand full comment

We may be living thru an intellectual/spiritual paradigm shift.

I speculate that in the West, prior to the Enlightenment, the popular psyche used various sorts of religious belief systems to explain observed phenomenon, and hence to allay humanity's natural impulse towards anxiety when confronted with the unknown.

This is very powerful stuff.

During the Enlightenment, the same questions were answer in a more precise way, one that could be repeated independently by anyone who followed the same steps. This eroded the older belief systems, which could not supply such proofs and relied on faith alone. In short, rationalism produced tangible results, while belief systems did not.

In the west, mostly these changes were eventually supported by the leadership classes, with the exception of religious organizations, which tended to oppose to some degree or other, all or parts of the rational mechanisms. There remained a tension in popular sentiments, but leadership backed rationalism because it could produce results, like crop yield increases, that were beneficial to it in governing--thus mollifying the populace and making them more governable.

Within my lifetime we have seen the retreat of Enlightenment rationality and its replacement, increasingly, by belief systems that require little or no rational basis. This is now being supported, to a degree, by leadership, and for the same reason that leadership supported rationalism: it mollifies the populace at this point in time, again, making them more governable.

After all, rationalism solved many of those daily problems like adequate food and treatment of disease, so it's not needed nearly as much at the present by the broad populace.

It's nice to find constants in human behavior, isn't it? :^)

Expand full comment

One sees this same sort of nonsense in deferral to Islam and its ban on "images" that can capture the soul. The reality is that these tribes are doubling down on primitive cultural beliefs that are easily refuted by science. Indeed, their entire narrative of their "history" is so demonstrably false that it discredits their entire culture when exposed for the drivel it is. Thank you for standing up to this idiotic nonsense.

Expand full comment

We still have a choice whether we want to take part. I think we shouldnt. There is always an interesting meta question. Such as study the culture wars.

Expand full comment

> We still have a choice whether we want to take part. I think we shouldnt.

That's called "surrendering".

Expand full comment

The tone of that blog is not that of a scientist, but that of a culture warrior. Not sure what I should make of this. If the purpose of the blog is to argue that science should try to stay clear of the culture wars, it is not achieving its aims.

Expand full comment

The culture wars are already upon science, whether scientists want to stay clear of them or not.

Expand full comment