CWVA's Introduction to the Buffalo Village Series
"Returning the Remains,"

A series of articles originally published in the Charleston Gazette, November-December 2001.

Buffalo village is a mid-17th century ("proto-historic") stockaded village on the Kanawha River in Putnam County. Notable for the recovery of numerous house patterns and a large number of ancient burials - perhaps unique in the Ohio Valley - it is widely known among archaeologists. Because of Iroquois aggression throughout the Ohio Valley, the indigenous population was driven from this area at about the time this village was abandoned for the last time. It cannot be associated with any existing tribe.

An ad hoc committee - including members from the Buffalo Historical Society, the United Methodist Church, American Electric Power, the Native American History Council, and the WV State Historic Preservation Office - is investigating the feasibility of burying these ancient human remains at or near the village, and building a museum or educational center nearby. The committee has garnered financial support from the land owner, American Electric Power, and both the West Virginia and national conferences of the United Methodist Church.

Actually, Buffalo is a good example of the need to preserve ancient human remains in a proper place. The original analysis was done in the late 1960s, and was far from comprehensive, even for the times. By modern standards, the analysis is hopelessly incomplete and outdated. Technologies are available now that yield entirely new types of information, most notably DNA sequencing, trace isotope identification, and vastly improved computing power for statistical analysis. There is every reason to believe that coming decades will bring even greater advances. A Council member addresses the general case for curation of human remains in another section of our web site.

Read this series of articles with a critical eye. The author is a strong advocate for burying the Buffalo village population. The series presents the emotional appeals of a small number of committed individuals. We reproduce it because it is a well-meaning piece that, while widely distributed, is likely to disappear from any readily available source.

Take particular note:

Part 1.
The author states that no archaeologists interviewed for his series objected to burying the Buffalo population. This is true only because he cast a small and highly selective net in his research -- a member of the Native American History Council, major advocates of burial, and the WV Division of Culture and History, which consistently advocates burial of newly discovered skeletal remains. A fourth named source, Seamus Metress, is the physical anthropologist who studied the remains for his Ph.D. dissertation (c. 1970), but whose main research long ago switched to Ireland.

There are about 40 professional archaeologists in the Council for WV Archaeology, and the author would have discovered a much more representative range of opinion had he contacted just a few, e.g., the Board of Directors, and there are hundreds of other archaeologists working in the Ohio Valley who recognize the Buffalo village as a highly significant site -- the Ohio Archaeological Council is an obvious additional lead.

Part 2 and Part 3.
Metress says he was impressed by the excavation, calling it "a better job than some professionals" and a "meritorious" job, but this assessment is questionable.

Part 4 and Part 5.
The author writes that "one can understand the original work [measurements and observations of the human remains] but why keep them," and "many tests have been run … and it is hard to believe others are needed after 40 years of work."

This does not show an understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry -- that new knowledge makes once-adequate frameworks obsolete, that techniques are constantly developed to replace antiquated methods, and that this type of work is poorly funded -- thus, studies proceed slowly and incompletely. See the essay by Roger Wise for a more complete statement of the scientists' view.

The author discusses the impact of the series and some of the reactions. He also corrects a misquotation and notes the introduction of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee into the effort to bury.

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CWVA's Introduction to the Buffalo Village Series
Part 1: Obstacles hamper return of Native American remains to Buffalo
Part 2: Many hands involved in excavating remains
Part 3: Remains transported state to state for study
Part 4: Local woman labors to bring back ancestors' remains
Part 5: Buffalo pastor, councilman strive to bring back remains
Part 6: Positive and negative feedback on the 'Remains' series