This was originally posted as a thread on Twitter and has only been edited slightly, the content is the same. CW/TW: Human remains, systemic racism, and generational trauma.
As promised, although I know there will be a select group of people who think I shouldn’t speak on this at all, here is a thread of my thoughts on this whole Elizabeth Weiss debate. This thread will be upsetting so please be advised that there is a CW/TW for this entire thread as it talks about human remains, systemic racism, and generational trauma. Feel free to mute, I will not take offense. This is why I have not redacted her name, so people who have muted her name will hopefully not see this thread. I will add individual CWs where appropriate for any outside sources.
Majority of my followers are not archaeologists. They make up people from various walks of life, some who are interested in archaeology, anthropology, or history, and others who are just here for fandom content. This thread is not for the archaeologists, the anthropologists, or the historians. This thread is for them, the people outside of this, the people who often times are the most affected by pseudoscience and bad actors like Weiss.
Why are they the most affected? Either because they don’t have access to the same information we do as professionals in this field and therefore can fall prey to misinformation; or because they end up being the target of the hate that pseudoscience and people like Weiss perpetuate. Weiss has a targeted audience. That audience is made up of racists, bigots, and fascists. These are people who will not be swayed in their ignorant beliefs. However, there are people who simply just don’t have the info about what NAGPRA is and why it’s important. If they have that information, they can be better allies to the BIPOC people Weiss harms.
This is not about me or about any of the white archaeologists who have been sharing in this discourse. This is about the people that Weiss and people like her hurt. I have seen a lot of it. Especially in the last couple of days as her presence on Twitter has been brought to all of our attention. This debate, while highlighting the harm Weiss has done and continues to do, it has caused some people to relive trauma. Not just trauma from people like Weiss but trauma about how this field treats people. We are a scientific field, but we are a humanities field first and foremost. We need to care about people. I have a lot to say about how this community of professionals has conducted itself the last few days, but I plan on keeping that a separate issue from this thread. Even if they are connected, because they are, on a deep systemic level. The point of this thread is public outreach and to lift up the marginalized voices who often get silenced by this field.
What is this law and why is it important? The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a law that was passed in 1990. In the most basic of terms this law is meant to encourage, facilitate, and enforce the repatriation of Indigenous human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. It is important because it gives agency back to Indigenous peoples who have long been subjected to having their culture and history taken from them (Resource: National Park Service NAGPRA website). It is important to know that this law is not just about human remains. It is about consultation with descendant communities to a) make sure we are conducting our work in a way that has their interests at heart and b) that they have a right to their material culture. Archaeology is built on the backs of BIPOC people. We took from them in so many ways. We took so many things that we had no right to take.
NAGPRA is meant to give power back to & protect Native Americans & Native Hawaiians. This isn’t the only purpose it serves nor the only reason it is important. NAGPRA existing means that we have a responsibility to act ethically when dealing with marginalized BIPOC groups who we have trampled. Indigenous people are not the only group to be affected by this field. Black communities have also suffered. This was made abundantly clear with Penn Museum’s handling of MOVE bombing victims (CW: Human remains and racial violence. Resource: The Daily Pennsylvanian article on the MOVE victims.)
This is not just about the distant past, but also the recent past. Museums, universities, and scientific fields have laid claim to the remains of marginalized people. It is unethical. It is wrong. NAGPRA sadly only covers the United States. BIPOC groups in other countries are still having their ancestors and their cultural heritage violated by American scientists, by American archaeologists. I’m an American archaeologist. I do not have overseas experience. I work in the Great Basin and work with local Indigenous groups. I cannot speak to what laws exist to help protect marginalized groups and Indigenous people in other countries. I hope there are safe guards for them and I need to do further research about this.
What I do know is that you can go into just about any museum and see mummies on display. Mummies from Egypt and mummies from South America. This is just what is publicly displayed. There are humans from all over the world sitting in storage in museums and universities. I will not share the photos, but anyone who has looked at Weiss’ account knows she poses with remains. It is disgusting. All of this is disgusting.
It is important to note that different cultures, even the various Indigenous cultures, have different views on death. But that’s why consultation matters. We cannot make assumptions about what descendants want for their ancestors.
So, what do we as archaeologists need to do? What do you as the general public need to do? Speak up, speak out. Lift up the voices of BIPOC groups. We are nothing without their voices. Retweet and share their causes. Amplify their presence and voice. Especially those of us who are white. We need to use our white privilege in a way that will not silence marginalized people. When we see things happen that are wrong, we need to speak up.
Sadly, Weiss is not the only person in the fields of anthropology and archaeology who hold these views. These fields are the product of white colonialism. These fields have been used to justify genocide, racism, forced sterilization, and numerous other horrific acts. The list goes on. This is an ugly history we have to own up to. We need to also realize that we still have A LOT of work to do to be better, to do better.
How do we fight Weiss and people like her? This was probably the most contentious part of the whole debate regarding this vile woman. Ignore her, she’s a troll. Valid. Speak up, do public outreach. Valid. She needs to be de-platformed. Valid. Lift up BIPOC voices, don’t speak over them. Valid. Don’t just rage on social media, take action in real life. Valid. Help people understand why she is unethical. Valid.
This is not the first time that Weiss has stirred up chaos and outrage. She co-authored a book with James Springer which was published last year arguing how repatriation and NAGPRA are harming her job as a physical anthropologist and science as a whole. This book was published by University Press of Florida who received heated letters and emails disparaging Weiss and Springer. An open letter signed by numerous professionals was sent to the publisher calling for them to pull the book (you can still sign this letter in support). No surprise to anyone that did not happen. This harmful book is still out there being sold. I will not share the link to said book. I can tell you that the reviews are exactly what you would expect. Polar opposites. Folks calling it out for its racist, harmful content. Folks praising it as not giving in to Political Correctness culture and “anti-racist cry-bullies” are attacking the book for invalid reasons. Again, you can see who her targeted audience is.
Weiss caused more outrage earlier this year during the annual Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference. The SAAs have A LOT of issues and have been the subject of a lot of controversy. This year’s controversy was them allowing Weiss and Springer to present a paper during a NAGPRA session, where they once again argued that repatriation is bad. Dr. Kisha Supernaut (@ArchaeoMapper on Twitter) talked to Science Magazine back in April about this issue. (CW: Systemic racism. Resource: Science Magazine article.) The book and the SAA presentation are not the only instances of Weiss and her cohorts seeking out platforms in order to spread their harmful views. Associate Professor April Beisaw (@AprilMBeisaw on Twitter) wrote about articles published in Quillette & Areo Magazine that were again reaffirming the harmful opinion that NAGPRA is bad for science. (CW: Systemic racism and human remains. Resource: The Geek Anthropologist article.)
The most recent discourse is not new. Weiss has been stirring the pot for years. However, there is a new concern to add onto the fact that a) she’s being allowed to continue to publish (some of these being peer-reviewed) and b) she is a tenured professor at San Jose State University. She now has a social media presence on Twitter and probably elsewhere too. A lot of folks have been actively fighting her since last year. Many Indigenous people, many academics, many of us in archaeology, have been fighting her. However, even with this fight taking place a lot of people still did not know what was happening. We all know that the algorithms of social media end up working against us most of the time. There were a lot of folks who did not know Weiss and others were out here making these claims.
There has been a lot of back and forth debating whether or not publicly calling Weiss out on Twitter was a good idea. I’ve retweeted a lot of perspectives on this and I will share them again here, because they are important and these views are coming from Indigenous people. Some are for publicly calling her out and did so themselves, and others prefer alternatives.
CW: Includes retweet of Weiss and her profile picture does contain human remains:
Non-Indigenous POC have also weighed in.
CW: Includes screenshot of a post by Weiss and personal experience of academic racism:
Please be sure to follow these accounts and the others mentioned in this post. Additional BIPOC accounts I recommend following are as follows: