Community Schools

Lehigh to Return Native American Artifacts to Delaware Nation

Lehigh officials said they learned of the artifacts’ discovery on land the school owns in Upper Saucon Township last fall.

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Lehigh University has announced that it will return over 90 Native American artifacts found on property it owns in Upper Saucon Township to Delaware Nation, a federally recognized nation of Lenape people.

Credit: Lehigh University

According to a March 1 university news release, a 3,000-year-old flint knifepoint is among the artifacts that are to be returned, along with pieces of pottery and tools made of jasper, quartz and chalcedony. The university said the artifacts were found during a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) archeological survey of about 100 acres, about half of which is owned by Lehigh, last year.

Delaware Nation plans to display them in a new museum that is expected to open this spring at their headquarters in Anadarko, Okla., it said. Carissa Speck, who is tribal historic preservation director for Delaware Nation, said displaying the treasures at the museum in Oklahoma will allow members of the nation to connect with their past.

“These artifacts will help us grow our collection, and we will be able to display them for our tribal citizens to have access to and see them in person,” she said. “Most tribal citizens do live in Oklahoma. If the artifacts were on display in Pennsylvania, many of our members wouldn’t be able to see them.” Speck also noted that looting of Native American artifacts continues to be a problem, which is why Delaware Nation did not want specifics about where they were found to be shared publicly.

Lehigh officials said they learned of their discovery by the archeological surveyors last fall.

In Pennsylvania, artifacts found on private property belong to the current property owner, said Steven McDougal, an archeologist for PennDOT District 5. In general, property owners keep what is found, but in some cases the items have been donated to the The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, McDougal said.

“Typically very few collections have gone to Native American tribes or nations,” he said. “Having collections donated to Native American tribes and nations is a relatively new idea, at least in Pennsylvania. I personally think it’s a really good idea.”

The Lenape people inhabited the entire Lehigh Valley region before it was settled by European immigrants in the 18th century.

“Archaeology is the study of humanity through the lens of material culture,” said McDougal, who noted that Pennsylvania was settled by the Lenape approximately 15,000 years ago. “I personally think it’s really important to understand the history of the land we are on, dating back as long as there have been people there,” he said. “You study past peoples, whether it be Native Americans, or early European settlers of this area, and that tells you a lot about how people lived, the small bits and pieces of life. I think it gives you a very good picture of common humanity.”

This local news story was reported with generative AI assistance.


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