TOWAOC, Colo. -- "A wrong has been righted," a New Mexico tribal leader said of the recent reburial in Mesa Verde National Park of the remains of more than 1,500 Ancestral Puebloans.
The prehistoric corn, squash and bean farmers had been unearthed in archaeological excavations spanning more than a century.
"Finally they have been reburied so they can continue to make their journey," said Peter Pino, tribal administrator for the Zia pueblo in north-central New Mexico.
New Mexico's Zia, Acoma and Zuni pueblos and Arizona's Hopi tribe worked with park officials to finalize a repatriation agreement signed in December.
Last month, Hopi officials reburied 1,560 sets of human remains, including 455 nearly complete skeletons, said Linda Towle, the park's chief of research and resource management. Also buried were 4,937 related funerary objects.
More than 90 percent of the human remains were unearthed during archaeological excavations between the 1880s and the 1960s at Mesa Verde. The bones are 700 to 1,550 years old, Towle said.
The bones and artifacts were reburied at a remote, undisclosed backcountry site, she said during the second day of the park's three- day centennial archaeology symposium. About 100 people are attending the meeting at the Ute Mountain casino in Towaoc, 11 miles south of Cortez.
Last month's reburial was the culmination of a 13-year negotiation that initially involved 24 tribes.
It was one of the largest reburials since the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990.
That law requires museums and federal agencies to return American Indian remains, funerary items, sacred objects and other goods to the descendants of the dead or to culturally affiliated tribes.
"It's long overdue, and it's what every human being deserves, whether you're Native American or Anglo," said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi cultural preservation office.
"The disturbance of burial grounds is a violation of spiritual law," Kuwanwisiwma said Thursday. "This particular reburial did ease our minds that the final journey would finally go toward closure."
Towle said the grave goods included pottery, beads and other jewelry, stone tools and turkey-feather blankets. Everything was buried several feet deep, under a "huge mound of very rocky soil."
Only a handful of park employees know the exact burial location, which is inaccessible in the winter and is patrolled by park law enforcement officers in the summer.
Kuwanwisiwma said security was a big concern for all the tribes involved in the repatriation negotiations.
He said the Hopis are satisfied with the park's security measures and feel confident that the remains and grave goods are safe from thieves.
Kuwanwisiwma was present at the reburial, which he said did not involve a ceremony, prayers or songs. "It was simply a reburial," he said.
Twenty-four tribes initially told park officials that they believed their people are descendants of the prehistoric Mesa Verde dwellers. Later, those 24 tribes selected the Hopi, Zuni, Zia and Acoma to represent them in the negotiations.
The prehistoric farmers of the Four Corners area have long been known to archaeologists as the Anasazi. Federal officials and some others now refer to them as the Ancestral Puebloans.
Under the federal law, Mesa Verde was required to inventory all Indian human remains, grave goods and sacred objects in its collection, which includes about 73 million items. A team of researchers searched every box and cabinet in the collection, a process that took months to complete, Towle said.
"We promised the tribes early on that we would rebury their ancestors in the park," she said. "We're very pleased that we have been able to accomplish that. We never thought it would take this long."
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page D2.