Mason Koelm

Mason Koelm, Undergraduate student, International Relations and Criminology, Law, and Justice

Returns Native American artifacts

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. Lara Noldner
What is your degree program and expected graduate date?
• International Relations (B.A.), Criminology, Law, and Justice (B.S.), Museum Studies Certificate, Anthropology Minor. Anticipated graduation in May 2021
Please describe your research: This research project was funded by a federal NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protections and Repatriation Act) grant and sought to identify any NAGPRA items in the UI Office of the State Archaeologists’ (OSA) collections that are from sites with mortuary features. The OSA has full inventories of all human remains and associated funerary objects in their possession, but many older collections have not been re-examined for possible unassociated funerary objects and sacred items. I analyzed archival material to determine which objects were included under the terms of NAGPRA, curated spreadsheets which compiled information on such objects, conducted physical inventories, and created graphics for a tribal summit which was postponed due to COVID-19.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? Museums and research collections have long been instruments of colonization. NAGPRA and collaboration between tribes and archaeologists serve as ways to decolonize museums, improve relations, and right historic wrongs.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I was a junior when this project began, so about 2 and a half years.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? I have been interested in the legal dimension of archaeology since high school. Working at the Office of the State Archaeologist was the first opportunity for me to take what I had read about and apply it to the field, in an extremely meaningful way. It also opened the door to my current work: researching the provenance of African art objects for the Stanley Art Museum.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? After graduating, I will attend law school, where I hope to continue research into cultural heritage law. After that, I would love to work with museums, collections, and nonprofits to act as a liaison on other legal puzzles regarding museums, art, and cultural heritage.

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