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Respectful Terminology

Respectful Terminology in Archaeological Compliance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2022


Archaeological compliance is defined by state and federal legislation and the constrained, precise language in which it is written. Rules and policies operationalize the law but provide some flexibility in its interpretation and implementation. The pronounced use of “legal” and “scientific” language in archaeological compliance can be considered insensitive or offensive to some tribal members when discussing the disposition and care of the remains and belongings of their ancestors. The language we use constructs our reality and defines how we interpret our interactions of the lived experience. It is therefore necessary to revise the language employed in archaeological compliance to ensure that it reflects the values of the communities that these laws define to determine treatment and ultimate disposition of their ancestral remains and belongings. This article describes and encourages the use of a respectful terminology, developed in conjunction with compliance professionals and tribal representatives, to restructure the language we use and redefine our interactions as more considerate of tribal concerns for repatriation.

Style Guide: Native Governance Center

Last updated 02/2021

This is a version of the style guide that Native Governance Center uses to guide their communications, so they are respectful and consistent in talking about Native nations.

Style Guide
collect (bone or funerary object)gather (ancestral or cultural remains)
cremainscremation, primary/secondary cremation, or cremated human remains
grave/burialfunerary/mortuary feature
grave goods/items/objects/artifacts/accompanimentsfunerary objects/belongings
human skeletonsancestral remains/human remains/individuals
lock (in a room/lab/cabinet)secure
remove/excavate/exhume (burial or individual)recover (ancestral remains/individuals)
sacred objectssacred ceremonial objects
skeletal samplegroup of ancestral remains/group of individuals
store/pack/box uphouse/housing
animal burialanimal mortuary feature