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The Incorporation of the Native American Past: Cultural Extermination, Archaeological Protection, and the Antiquities Act of 1906

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2005

Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
Center for Desert Archaeology. Email:


In the late nineteenth century, while advocates garnered support for a law protecting America's archaeological resources, the U.S. government was seeking to dispossess Native Americans of traditional lands and eradicate native languages and cultural practices. That the government should safeguard Indian heritage in one way while simultaneously enacting policies of cultural obliteration deserves close scrutiny and provides insight into the ways in which archaeology is drawn into complex sociopolitical developments. Focusing on the American Southwest, this article argues that the Antiquities Act was fundamentally linked to the process of incorporating Native Americans into the web of national politics and markets. Whereas government programs such as boarding schools and missions sought to integrate living indigenous communities, the Antiquities Act served to place the Native American past under the explicit control of the American government and its agents of science. This story of archaeology is vital, because it helps explain the contemporary environment in which debates continue about the ownership and management of heritage.

Research Article
© 2005 International Cultural Property Society

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