I spoke at length today with a woman who we are bringing in to test the items we have repatriated over the last few years under NAGPRA. We are using funds from a repatriation grant to do this work. Contamination is an issue that is a real problem with tribes and museums. It’s difficult at times to have an item returned, but that is only half the battle. Once the item is returned to a tribe, it has to be tested for harmful chemicals that were used to preserve the item. Many times museums do not keep records of testing and testing was preformed by private collectors before they donated/sold the items. Some of the worst chemicals used are arsenic and DDT.
One surprising thing the woman told me today was that mercury can build up when it’s packaged, into a vapor cloud, so when I open anything I should open the container with the item in an open area and stand back, better yet leave the area for a few minutes so the mercury can fall to the ground. Now I am thinking back and I might have been blasted by a ball of nasty vapors without knowing it. It’s frustrating to have items but not be able to even touch them. But at least they are home and we can start on the work to see if they safe to handle. I see repatriation in two parts, the process of getting the items back under NAGPRA and the after effects of having the items in your community. Both are equally important but drastically different.
Besides working on the contamination issue, a large part of the day was spent planning for the next trip, which is to D.C. I have a few weeks to catch up here and it’s off again. I have to get another claim out before my next trip. The core of what I do is repatriation and I have to keep to it.