Most school children have heard the story of the ill-fated Donner Party, the small group of pioneers who became stranded in the Sierra Nevada pass (now termed “Donner Pass”) and resorted to cannibalism to survive. This month’s Archaeology Magazine highlights a new and previously unexplored source on the Donner Party tragedy – the local Native Americans.
The Route Taken by the Donner Party
Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky incorporated oral traditions handed down by the Washoe people to learn more about what happened during the tragic winter of 1846-1847.
Their oral tradition recalls the starving strangers who camped in an area that was unsuitable for that time of year. Taking pity on the pioneers, the northern Washoe attempted to feed them, leaving rabbit meat and wild potatoes near the camps. Another account states that they tried to bring the Donner Party a deer carcass, but were shot at as they approached. Later, some wel mel ti observed the migrants eating human remains. Fearing for their lives, the area’s native inhabitants continued to watch the strangers but avoided further contact. (Archaeology Magazine, Schablitsky).
Archaeologists working in San Antonio have recently uncovered a hut, dating to approximately 1,500 BCE, along the San Antonio River. This find proves that the natives of Southern Texas (often characterized as ‘primitive’) were in fact living in sophisticated communities replete with permanent structures.
This month we celebrate the birth of our Nation on July 4, 1776. The origins of the United States of America are a fascinating study in human nature, idealization, warfare, and more. Not surprisingly, the stories that are handed down have become a mix of myth and history. This month’s National Geographic highlights some of the most perpetual myths of the Fourth of July. Read more on the article here.
The Declaration of Independence was Signed July 4.
Paul Revere rode Solo
July 4, 1776, the colonists partied so hard it cracked the Liberty Bell
Patriots all flocked to fight for freedom (considering I have Tories in my background, I know it ain’t true)
The Declaration of Independence Holds Secret Messages
Archaeologists at UC San Diego, La Jolla are currently battling for the privilege to study two human skeletons, more than 9,000 years old, recovered during a construction projector at the Chancellor’s home.
The conflict has brought to the head current controversial issues involving NAGPRA (Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act), which gives primary consideration to local tribes (regardless of biological or cultural affiliation with remains or artifacts). Handing the skeletons over to local tribes would permanently bar scientists from studying the remains.
“To give them away without study, would be like throwing the genetic crown jewels of the peopling of the Americas in the ocean,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who is among about a half dozen researchers who have unsuccessfully sought in recent months to sample or study the bones. “It would be a major loss for all, including Native Americans.”
Current representations of the 12-Tribes (the powerful tribal council in the region) has demanded repatriation of the bones immediately in accordance with current laws and practice. This case may serve as a turning point for archaeologists and scientists that have long contested the validity of NAGPRA.