NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, became law on November 16, 1990. Through NAGPRA, restrictions were enacted to protect Native American burial sites and cultural objects. NAGPRA extends protection to any federally recognized Indian Tribe or Native Hawaiian or Alaskan group. Additionally a process was put into place for museums to repatriate these items. Repatriation can include long-term storage, return or reburial of sacred objects, objects of cultural patrimony, and funerary objects, including human skeletal remains and burial artifacts. Relationships with the tribes are the most important part of the NAGPRA process.
The Maxwell Museum is an active participant in the NAGPRA process and has worked closely with many tribes to repatriate objects. Among recent repatriations, over 400 human skeletons were repatriated to the Jemez Pueblo between 2013 and 2015. As part of the repatriation project, anthropologists from the Maxwell Museum documented skeletal remains, composed a report of findings, and returned the remains for reburial.
In August 2016, the Museum received a NAGPRA documentation grant for the site of Pottery Mound. The site is located in central New Mexico on the Isleta Pueblo Reservation and was occupied from approximately 1350 - 1500. It is perhaps best known for the painted murals found on the kiva walls. (A kiva is a ceremonial room used by Pueblo peoples and their ancestors.) Archaeologists have long been puzzled about exactly who the residents of Pottery Mound were— the site has an abundance of pottery types manufactured throughout the Southwest, including pottery types from Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, and Hopi. Therefore, a major component of the project will be to determine which tribes are affiliated with the site. Project staff will use information gathered through documentation and research of materials, along with consultation with Isleta Pueblo and other tribes, to make this determination. As part of this project, two UNM graduate students will document both the human skeletal remains and funerary objects. One final goal of the project is to publish an inventory of these materials in the National Register.