Temple University Anthropology Lab

Box of historical china found in an excavation

Chamber pots

Conch shell found in institution excavation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packed in the far east corner of Gladfelter hall at Temple University is a hidden gem that many students are unaware of, the anthropology lab. This lab contains both the artifacts and remains found in archeological excavations. The product that is stored on the premises were mostly excavated by Temple professionals or graduate students who need a place to store their discoveries. The lab usually functions as a museum but most of their collections have been moved into storage due to the replacement of their floors so we did get to see any of their completed displays. Due to its anthropology focus the institution house a number of objects that relate to indigenous culture. However, it does have a Philadelphia focused collection that focuses on an institution for the poor and sick. This was the collection that my class was shown. Even though this collection was from a poor home some of the objects that had been found in the excavation were out of the ordinary. A conch shell that had been hollowed out to be an instrument struck me as the oddest considering that one would assume those living in this establishment would not have had access to the kind of travel where one would acquire a conch shell. The were other things in the collection that made more sense, like a chamber pot or medicine vial.

Facing the elephant in the room, the Anthropology lab does have human remains in their collection, up to as many as 150 in fact. Most of these bodies are unlabeled native American person who so far has not been able to return to their native lands. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act were passed in 1990 and among other things focuses on the redistribution of Native American bodies, grave materials and sacred object to the ancestors of the tribes from which they were taken. This act has museum professionals go through their archives and collections to locate pieces that might need to be reallocated. But what if a museum professional doesn’t know that the object they have is a sacred object? This was the question posed to us at our meeting with the director of the lab. She explained to us that she has to have tribes professionals come in and communicate to her what is a sacred object within their culture. The problematic nature of putting the sorting through of sacred materials on the backs of museum professionals who might not know what they have made the necessity for greater interaction between museums and native tribes all the more important  

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