In 2019, the Vassar Anthropology department discovered that retired professor Lucille Lewis Johnson was storing archaeological collections on campus that had not undergone proper review for compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). This included over 200 boxes of material from 82 Alaskan sites, 20 New York sites, one Egyptian site, and one Chilean site. In 2020, three anthropology faculty members (Beisaw, Beck, Cofran) worked with the Dean of Faculty, Associate Dean of Faculty, and several administrative assistants to determine rightful owners and return collections. By May of 2022, all archaeological collections that included Indigenous ancestors and their possessions were returned to their descendant communities. Additionally, all collections made under excavation or collection permits were returned to those named in the permit, regardless of their contents. Only 26 boxes of material remain from the Johnson collections. These are collections for which no means of return has been identified. They do not include human remains, sacred or funerary objects, or objects of cultural patrimony.
The Vassar Anthropology department has repatriated all archaeological collections to their corresponding Indigenous communities, in accordance with both letter and the spirit of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The archaeological collections that remain in Blodgett are:
- Stone tools collected from RAnL 109–203, Cerro Los Balaos, Chile in 1968 as part of Lucille Johnson’s 1968 dissertation. Attempts to find a curation facility in Chile have failed.
- Paperwork and a small bag of stone tools collected from HK 56 & 57, Hierakonpolis, Egypt, as part of 1978–1981 excavations conducted by Lucille Johnson. Attempts to find the proper export paperwork for its return have failed.
- Artifacts and paperwork for NH002, Goshen, NY, as part of 1972–1975 excavations performed by Lucille Johnson and the Orange County Chapter of the NYSAA. The excavation permit required this collection to be turned over to the New York State Museum (NYSM) by 1977. They have decided not to take possession of the collection, which is mainly historic artifacts from a reform school. The Native American component of the site consists mainly of stone tools, which have been reviewed for NAGPRA compliance and discussed with both the NYSM and the Stockbridge Munsee historic preservation office.
- Historic artifacts collected by Lucille Johnson from construction sites around Poughkeepsie during the 1970s revitalization projects. These are mainly glass bottles, bricks, and metal fragments with no provenience information beyond a street name. No objects of clear Indigenous origin are included.
- Historic artifacts collected by Lucille Johnson from the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, collected during a fieldwork course she taught. No objects of clear Indigenous origin are included.
- North American projectile points of unknown origin, some of which were once displayed in a Vassar College museum that was dismantled in the 1960s. No provenience documentation from that museum survives. No items of an obvious funerary or sacred nature are included.
The Anthropology department welcomes inquiries regarding these collections and fully supports the return of collections to their rightful owners, whenever possible.
The department is currently participating in consultations to repatriate individuals from the human skeletal teaching collection, none of which came from known archaeological sites. Without proveniences for these individuals, we have used a variety of forensic techniques to estimate their ancestry and identify all possible descendant groups for consultation.