Ancient remains to be returned to local tribes

Jun. 10—The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture is planning to return the ancient remains of 26 Native American people found in downtown Santa Fe to local tribes.

The effort comes nearly

60 years after the bone fragments were unearthed from beneath the Palace of the Governors.

Partial remains of 16 adults, two teens, two young children and six infants were found buried under the historic site during excavations conducted between 1962 and 1975. The museum recently completed an assessment and inventory of them.

The National Park Service on Thursday published a notice in the Federal Register about the project's completion.

Julia Clifton, curator of archaeological research collections at the museum, said the remains will become the property of several local tribes 30 days after the notice's publication.

"Those are someone's ancestors, and they don't necessarily belong to us," Clifton said. "They belong to their descendants."

The remains were assessed with the help of tribal communities that likely have connections with the remains, including the Hopi Tribe of Arizona and the New Mexico tribes of Ohkay Owingeh, Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Tesuque and Santo Domingo.

It will be up to the tribes to decide who will receive them, Clifton said, adding they may decide to rebury them or even keep them at the museum.

"The tribes discuss that amongst themselves, and they come to an agreement," Clifton said.

Many of the remains likely belonged to Native people who occupied the Palace of the Governors after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, she said. The revolt drove the Spanish out of New Mexico for 12 years, meaning the remains were buried during a time of peace for the Indigenous people.

Experts believe those whose remains were buried at the palace likely died of natural causes and were placed in traditional burial pits, Clifton added.

The palace is said to be the oldest public building in continuous use constructed by European settlers. It was built in 1610 by Spanish colonists from Mexico.

Before then, the area was occupied by the Pueblo people's Tewa ancestors in the village of Oga-Pogee.

The excavations that led to the discovery of the burials were conducted as the palace was being remodeled. Museum staff members Bruce Ellis and Stanly Stubbs first found the fragmented remains of a 7- to 10-month-old infant in 1962.

In 1965, three more sets of remains were discovered in the southeast room of the palace. They were determined to belong to woman, a 15- to 18-year-old who probably was a boy and another adult whose sex was not identified.

Between 1974 and 1975, museum staff found the remains of 13 adults, five infants, two children between the ages of 1 and 3, and two kids between 11 and 14.

According to the notice in the Federal Register, 24 of the 26 remains were found in sediment below the palace's 20th-century floor. Two were found in the building's patio area.

The museum also found four funerary objects with some of the remains: fabric remnants, a broken piece of pottery, an Olivella shell bead and a metal straight pin, according to the notice.

Clifton said it is unclear how exactly these items were used, but she has a few guesses.

"The fabric remnants may have been from a shroud or clothing that the person was wearing. The beads could have been from a necklace or it might have been sewn to their clothing," she said.

She said the pin was probably used to fasten fabric together, much like people do today.

Tribal descendants not listed on the notice that wish to claim remains can submit a written request by July 11 to Clifton at 710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87504, or by email to