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Working Together

Hopi Oral History and Archaeology

Part I: The Role of Archaeology

T. J. Ferguson, Kurt Dongoske, Mike Yeatts,
and Leigh Jenkins


Conventional archaeological culture history has focused on the Hopi's relations to archaeological sites on or near the Hopi Indian Reservation, although, as discussed previously, Hopi concerns for Hisatsinom archaeological sites extend over a much wider region. Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (CPO) staff archaeologists play an important role in identifying Hisatsinom archaeological sites.

On the Hopi Reservation, the professional CPO staff conducts archaeological inventories and prepares reports that meet cultural resource management standards. In a recent survey of 24.4 miles along State Highway 264, conducted for the Arizona Department of Transportation, 48 archaeological sites and 19 traditional cultural properties were located. Ethnographic interviews and archival research identified four additional cultural properties destroyed during prior road construction. Potential impacts to orchards and farming areas of cultural importance to the Hopi were also identified.

This survey exemplified the difficulty in classifying and managing archaeological sites and traditional cultural properties. These categories are not mutually exclusive and one site may exhibit characteristics that allow its classification in both categories, creating a management dilemma. Many "archaeological sites" also meet National Register of Historic Places eligibility criteria for traditional cultural properties. Similarly, many "traditional cultural properties" also have archaeological manifestations. This dual classification can be problematical. For instance, the Hopi tribe simultaneously wants to enter archaeological site data into the archives maintained by the Arizona State Museum but not reveal the location of certain traditional cultural properties. The description and location of archaeological sites in site forms and technical reports may inadvertently reveal information about an associated traditional cultural property, even if specific information is withheld. Classification as only an archaeological site eligible for the National Register under criterion d may result in a determination of mitigation through data recovery. However, if this site is also a traditional cultural property, such as a shrine, there can be no mitigation, and its destruction may have a deleterious effect on Hopi culture. This illustrates the importance of accurately assessing site qualities, and is something the Hopi tribe still seeks to resolve.

For projects conducted by agencies outside the Hopi Reservation, CPO archaeologists review survey reports to collate and summarize data for review by the advisory team, composed of tribal elders. For instance, a recent National Park Service survey of 255 miles along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon documented a total of 475 sites, of which 235 were deemed to be Hisatsinom sites. Surveys of the SRP Fence Lake Mine and Transportation Corridor Project identified about 600 sites, the majority of which are prehistoric pueblo sites deemed Hisatsinom. Professional archaeologists have been essential in sorting through the voluminous information presented in technical reports, helping the CPO avoid information overload.

Some archaeologists believe that Indians may be interested in preserving sites but that they are not interested in archaeology per se, i.e., the discipline that scientifically studies material culture. The Hopi, however, are interested in archaeology. Hopi elders want to know what types of data archaeologists collect and how these data are used to reach conclusions. Many compare archaeological findings to their own system of knowledge. Points of congruence between the two systems of knowledge are often explained in terms of Hopi ritual knowledge. For instance, Hopi prophecy forecasts a time when even the ashes left by the ancestors will be used to prove their claims. Hopi cultural advisors make the connection between this prophecy and flotation analyses of hearth contents for macrobotanical studies.

In general, archaeologists have inconsistently used Hopi knowledge in the interpretation of the archaeological record. Archaeologists have posed the questions of "what happened to the Anasazi?" "where did they go?" The Hopi know where the "Anasazi" went--to the Hopi mesas, among other places. Many archaeologists use the Hopi in an ethnographic analogy to interpret architectural function and to label archaeological features; the terms and concepts used by archaeologists derive from the Hopi lifeway, e.g., kiva and Katsina. Archaeology would benefit if theorists would consistently research and more rigorously use Hopi understanding of the prehistoric cultures of the Southwest.

When development threatens ancestral sites, the Hopi CPO always recommends preservation and protection. A Hopi would never recommend the destruction of an ancestral site. However, the Hopi tribe recognizes that consultation allows it a role in the decision-making process, though not in a final management decision. While the Hopi tribe does not condone the destruction of ancestral archaeological sites, it will recommend mitigation through scientific study for sites that others have decided to destroy. Many Hopi think a written record is better than no record at all, providing documentation of Hopi monuments, so that memory of them will not be entirely lost once their physical manifestation is gone.

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Osteology and Reburial of Human Remains

The remains of ancestors buried in archaeological sites are of special concern to the Hopi because of religious significance. From the Hopi perspective, the only proper disposition of disturbed or excavated ancestral human remains and their associated funerary objects is respect and reburial.

Implementation of NAGPRA necessitates consultation with Native American groups claiming cultural affinity to the buried human remains. NAGPRA regulatory procedures are still being developed, but clearly, the required research and consultation substantially overlaps with that required for the National Historic Preservation Act since both federal laws often pertain to the same sites.

The issue of cultural affinity as defined in NAGPRA raises questions about how affinity is determined--it is one thing to claim cultural affinity and another to prove affinity objectively. Different levels of cultural affinity are of interest to the Hopi. At a general level, Hopi are concerned about all Hisatsinom human remains, which can often, but not always, be identified contextually by association with pueblo architecture or pottery types. No osteological analysis is required for this type of identification. More specifically, some Hopi are also interested in the genetic affinity among different southwestern tribes and what this means for prehistoric migrations. In addition, the age, sex, and pathologies of disinterred human remains are important, as well as associated funerary objects indicative of social status that would warrant a specific treatment. Nondestructive osteological analyses and study of artifacts are thus seen as appropriate.

Members of the advisory team want to make informed decisions on the appropriate techniques for studying human remains. In consultation on the Fence Lake Mine Project, SRP facilitated a meeting where a physical anthropologist, Charles Merbs (Arizona State University) reviewed the state of the art of osteological analyses and what can be learned using the various methods and techniques. This allowed the Hopi to develop recommendations for the appropriate osteological analysis, fully understanding research procedures and potentials for interpretation. For instance, some Hopi think tribal affinity and clan migration might be understood through genetic studies that entail destructive analysis of human remains, and they are willing to consider this as an analytical option. Others with a more conservative view think that such analyses, while interesting, would be culturally inappropriate. The important point here is that the Hopi cultural advisors are willing to consider professional research designs that address specific problems for specific sets of data, with mutual benefits to anthropologists and the Hopi, and then base their recommendations on presented information, as tempered by cultural values.

The Hopi realize they share a cultural affinity to many Hisatsinom archaeological sites with other pueblos and non-pueblo tribes, creating a need to consult with other tribes, especially with regard to the proper treatment of human remains and funerary objects. On the Fence Lake Mine Project, the Salt River Project (SRP) sponsored a series of meetings between the Acoma, Hopi, and Zuni tribes, allowing discussion among tribal elders, and resulting in a uniform set of recommendations for the proper disposition of human remains and grave goods under the provisions of NAGPRA. Knowledge that the Hopi tribe burial treatment recommendations to SRP did not conflict with other pueblos' recommendations allayed many anxieties. The intertribal pueblo meetings were in everyone's best interest.

Archaeologists conceptually can reduce human remains simply to classification as "artifacts," and make sampling decisions for a project area, allowing sites containing human graves to be destroyed without data recovery. Hopi, however, apply more humanistic criteria when consulted, and have recommended that every ancestral grave in the direct impact zone be relocated, reburied as closely as possible to its original location. For the Hopi, reinterment is the only acceptable mitigation for grave disturbance because of their concept of death. Death initiates two distinct but inseparable journeys: the physical journey of the body as it returns to a oneness with the earth, and the spiritual journey of the soul to a place where it finally resides. Disruption of the physical journey obstructs the spiritual journey, creating an imbalance within the spiritual world and, hence, the natural world.

The Hopi conduct a reburial ceremony when ancestral remains are reburied. Elders from the advisory team have traveled extensively to conduct the appropriate rituals.

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Role of Ethnohistory

The CPO uses ethnohistory in conjunction with archaeology for consultation. This research entails the collection and analysis of information from archival sources, published literature, and oral history interviews. Published Hopi literature is extensive, but the information itself is not always accurate from the Hopi perspective. Formal interviews with Hopi elders are useful to verify published information. The CPO prefers to tape record and transcribe interviews, building a body of archival documentation, and thus allowing the interviews to be referenced and cited in the same scholarly fashion as other written sources.

The interviews and ethnographic research are conducted on a "need to know" basis, where only that information needed for management purposes is made available. Basic questions pertaining to historic preservation include the antiquity of a traditional cultural property, the way in which it functions to retain or transmit cultural identity, and whether its integrity has been compromised through alteration of location, setting, design, or materials. Research generally does not require esoteric aspects of rituals to be divulged. A filtering process keeps esoteric information from being needlessly divulged to non-Indians, and also to safeguard it from other Hopi clans or villages. Many interviews are conducted entirely in Hopi, and only portions are transcribed or summarized in English.

This ethnohistorical research uses documentary sources to fill in gaps. During the SRP Fence Lake Mine Project, none of the Hopi elders knew the entire pilgrimage route from the Hopi Mesas to the Zuni Salt Lake in New Mexico. Even though the old trails are not precisely known, the shrines and offering places along some of the trails are still used in prayers and, conceptually, the trails have not lost their significance. For this reason, the advisory team thought it was important to locate the old trails and identify how the SRP project impacted them. Ethnohistorical research used oral history interviews, review of published literature, analysis of aerial photographs and remote sensing, and extensive fieldwork to locate them. This methodology successfully located one pilgrimage trail, and determined general locations of two others. Documentation of contemporary Hopi values and beliefs about sites is another important component of ethnohistorical research. This information provides the CPO with the documentation it needs to consult with regulatory agencies and help evaluate historic properties in terms of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

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Cultural Preservation vs. Historic Preservation

The Hopi tribe approaches consultation from a cultural preservation perspective, yet the framework with which this research is conducted is one of historic preservation. While these two pursuits overlap substantially, there are also important differences that need to be considered for the design of appropriate research and the dissemination of results. For instance, while preservation of Hopi culture requires that esoteric religious information remain secret, the historic preservation compliance process requires documentation of Hopi values and beliefs in order to assess the historical character of properties--a potential source of conflict. This conflict was resolved effectively during the SRP project and the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies by allowing the tribe to collect the necessary data and decide what information could be released. By guaranteeing information confidentiality and by directly participating in the research, the CPO is able to successfully balance cultural preservation with historic preservation and help agencies satisfy their federal mandates.

Implementation of an intense CPO review process ensures confidentiality of esoteric information. Draft reports are read by the director and staff, and then submitted for review by the advisory team. This is a time-consuming process, and the internal review schedules do not always coincide with project schedules. The final review for the Fence Lake Mine Project, for instance, was initiated six months after the draft report was completed, at the same time the report was released for review by state and federal regulators.

The advisory team review entailed reading the entire report aloud in both English and Hopi. English words and cultural resources management concepts were defined and discussed when these were not readily understood, and there was detailed discussion of all information, recommendations, and conclusions. The primary concern was that the report be accurate, using the advisors' knowledge to verify anthropological data. Another concern was whether use of the information should be restricted to the sponsor and regulators, or released to the public. Review took six full days, involving working groups from 12 to 22 people. Those who are quoted or cited in the report gave explicit permission to be identified. Similar permission from those unable to attend the meeting was obtained by reviewing the report with them privately. The intense scrutiny the SRP report was subjected to guarantees both that the advisory team fully understands the information contained in the report and that it contains no erroneous information.

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Accommodation of Academic and Hopi Values in Dissemination of Knowledge

After review of the SRP Fence Lake Project ethnohistory report, the advisory team recommended that the CPO only release this information to the project sponsor and the regulatory agencies. It did not feel comfortable with a public release which would make it available for scholarly research outside the auspices of the Hopi Tribe. The CPO released only a limited distribution of the final report with the caveat that it cannot be copied or used for scholarly purposes unrelated to project management without written tribal permission.

There is some irony in the restriction of ethnohistorical reports prepared by the CPO, given the fact that these reports draw upon past anthropological work that would not be available if it had been similarly restricted. Report restriction may result in the unavailability of that data for future use. Quite honestly, report restriction creates a tension between the professional ethics of the CPO anthropologists who are expected to disseminate the results of their work to other scholars, and the cultural ethics of Hopi tribal members to not divulge information. This tension is diffused by open discussion of the issue between the Hopi and their non-Indian employees and consultants, and by an ongoing evaluation of the respective cultural preservation and scholarly research goals. It is also mitigated by the approval of dissemination of some publications (see "Ethics of Field Research for the Hopi Tribe," Anthropology Newsletter, January 1994, p. 56).

Hopi people use archaeology and ethnohistory to verify their own beliefs and enrich their personal understanding of their place in the universe. Archaeologists have a less personal and more abstract interest in adding to the general store of knowledge and reaching scientific or historical conclusions. These two objectives are not mutually exclusive, but their joint accommodation is still being developed, which is not surprising given that the CPO is still a relatively new organization working in uncharted territory. Perhaps in time the Hopi will decide that cultural resource management projects provide an appropriate means for the Hopi tribe to advance scholarly knowledge, as well as their self-defined preservation goals.

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Prospects for the Future

Archaeological research is of concern to the Hopi, particularly when their ancestors are the subject of research and their self-perception is affected. The destruction of archaeological sites, be it by construction projects, land development, or scientific excavation, is of great concern, because their ancestral record is obliterated. Hopi participation in research and consultation will ensure that Hopi perspectives and concepts are incorporated into the written record that will remain after archaeological sites are destroyed.

Beyond consultation, the Hopi want to be treated as peers in archaeological research so that their knowledge, values, and beliefs are respected in the same way that archaeologists respect one another when they differ in research methods or interpretations. The Hopi do not want to indiscriminately impose their sacred knowledge on the archaeological record, or unfairly constrain archaeological interpretation. They do not want to censor ideas, nor do they wish to impose research designs on archaeologists.

However, not all information should be divulged and not all archaeological research is suitable for direct tribal involvement. No guidelines define what is appropriate research or what research is appropriate for Hopi to participate in. Hopi standards for appropriate research and how research should be conducted will certainly evolve in the future as archaeological method, theory, and techniques also develop, and as tribal members see a need to obtain new information about their past. Future cooperative research ventures between the Hopi tribe and anthropologists may serve to identify and advance mutually beneficial research interests. Archaeologists should not be discouraged if the Hopi tribe does not presently choose to support proposed research. With continued communication and increased understanding of the research process, the tribe may support research in the future that is not considered appropriate today.

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Cultural preservation is important to the Hopi tribe. As Vernon Masayesva, tribal chairman, remarked at the 1991 Hopi Cultural Preservation Day, it is true that

"...early in life...when we are taught to plant, the elders would tell you that if you want to plant a straight row of corn, you have to first pick where you are going to be going, where you wish to end up at. And then you start planting, but every so often you have to look back. Because it is what happened that tells you where you are at, and where you are going. So, when we talk about cultural preservation, its not just because we want to save something, I think it's because we don't want to forget who we are as Hopis. That we don't want to ever forget our responsibilities, and our traditions and values--all those things that make us different in many ways from other cultures. And this is why cultural very important. Because you will never know who you are unless you know where you came from. You never know where you are going unless you understand where you have been".

The Hopi CPO thinks that archaeology, ethnography, and ethnohistory play important roles in cultural preservation, and that the research conducted for consultation with state and federal regulatory agencies will result in lasting benefits for the Hopi people.

T. J. Ferguson is with the Institute of the NorthAmerican West. Kurt Dongoske, Mike Yeatts, and Leigh Jenkins are with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.

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