Note from Sali Underwood at the Nevada State Museum
Site stewarding has come a very long way since I started the program back in 2006 with the help of the Nevada Archeological Association and the Clark County Stewardship programs. But the main goal of the program has not changed, the stewardship program is all about preservation. Not unlike what museums do with objects and specimens, stewards do with archaeological and paleontological sites.
As an example, recently the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, was contacted by a gentleman who wanted to donate his historic glass bottle collection collected from several ghost towns in Nevada and California. Though the museum was interested in preserving bottles from Nevada’s regional history, there is an ethical responsibility that, as a curator, I take very seriously.
The first question I asked was, where these artifacts collected? As we all know, context is everything. If they came from state or federal land, no matter when they were collected, I feel it is my duty to contact those state and federal land managing agencies to see if they would like the material returned. In this case, the collection comprised many bottles, but three bottles were labeled as coming from Bodie, California. I reached out to the California State Parks to see what they would like us to do about the artifacts and they said that they would like the bottles back.
To me as a preservationist at heart is the right thing to do for these artifacts. They were taken as souvenirs without permission and they need to be returned.
This ethic also applies to Native American artifacts. The museum has returned artifacts that were taken from the Fort Mojave reservation without permission or permits. This, in turn, builds important relationships with federal, state, and tribal entities.
After all, it is all about respect, preservation, and working together so that future generations can value the importance of Nevada’s history and prehistory. As stewards, you are key to this process and I hope you will continue to contribute to the preservation of Nevada’s unique and interesting past.
Sali A. Underwood
Archaeologist and Natural History Curator at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas