Archaeology in 2021: Repatriation, Reclamation, and Reckoning with Historical Trauma

Archaeology in 2021 was characterized by a continued call to use the tools of the discipline to document the violence of settler colonialism in the past and present, pushing anthropology to reckon with its own role in perpetuating historical trauma. The tension between disciplinary reflection and reform was most clearly articulated in the use of archaeological geophysics to detect the unmarked graves of incarcerated Indigenous children who died at residential and boarding schools in Canada and the United States. The highly publicized investigation of these schools has brought renewed attention to issues of repatriation and historical reclamation for many communities impacted by settler colonialism. These discussions have reverberated throughout the discipline, prompting revisions to the Society for American Archaeology's “Statement Concerning the Treatment of Human Remains,” reopening conversations around an African American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and informing debates around the ethics of DNA research. These conversations are part of a larger movement toward decolonizing the field by using archaeological methods to explore marginalized histories and support communities most impacted by the violences of settler colonialism.