Archaeology is the study of societies from the recent and distant past, primarily through analysis of material remains.


Archaeological Site

The great time depth of archaeological studies brings a unique perspective to our understanding of the evolution of our species — for example, providing insight into human adaptations to ice ages, the development of agricultural systems, the evolution of human health and diets, and the origins of complex civilizations. Archaeologists at UC Davis work all around the globe, and focus especially on adaptations to coastal environments, zooarchaeology (analysis of animal bones), lithic technology (analysis of stone tools), and archaeometry (application of scientific techniques to study properties of materials).

 Statement on human remains and engagement with descendant communities

Anthropology is the holistic study of human cultures, societies, and biology. Archaeology is the sub-field of anthropology that studies past human cultures, societies, and biology by examining material culture, or artifacts. The UC Davis Department of Anthropology includes archaeology faculty and students who investigate artifacts around the world to advance our understanding of the great diversity of human experience on our planet. In studying and preserving cultural heritage, archaeologists often encounter and engage with human skeletal remains. We, the Evolutionary Wing faculty of the UC Davis Department of Anthropology, acknowledge that archaeology in the past historically entailed treating human remains as research specimens with perspectives that were often at odds with those of descendant communities. Such biased engagement with the archaeological record and human remains directly or indirectly disenfranchised and harmed historically marginalized groups around the world. For California archaeology, these groups include, but are not limited to, Indigenous, Latinx, Black, Chinese, and Japanese peoples. We recognize that this problem must be corrected.

We affirm that the lives of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Chinese, Japanese and other historically marginalized groups matter. We affirm that accurate and respectful representation of their histories matter and demands respectful engagement with those communities. Archaeology is just one of many ways of understanding the past alongside traditional cultural knowledge. We recognize that the human remains and artifacts with which archaeologists typically engage are affiliated—whether genetically, culturally, or both—with contemporary descendant communities, often in the regions where the remains are found. Research on human remains, associated funerary objects, and other items of cultural patrimony demands collaboration with descendant communities, even if ascertaining those relationships is complex. Further, we are committed to helping descendant communities access archaeological collections for their own research. Finally, we support efforts to diversify the field of practitioners, and we are encouraged by current trends of increasing diversity, which promise more equitable practice and richer interpretations in the field of archaeology.

Today, archaeologists, descendant communities, and governmental agencies operate in a complex and ever-changing sociopolitical landscape. UC Davis archaeology faculty strive to comply with global, federal, state, and local standards and laws that guide the ethical treatment of human remains. These include, but are not limited to, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Articles 12 and 31), the United States Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), California NAGPRA (as amended), AB 52-CEQA Tribal Consultation, and the University of California’s Native American Cultural Affiliation and Repatriation Policy. The UC Davis Anthropology Museum is in compliance with NAGPRA regulations, and since its inception in 2014, we have worked closely with UC Davis’ NAGPRA project staff ( to maintain compliance and further communication with descendant communities. We are further committed to training our students in the ethical treatment of human remains, compliance with relevant laws, and respectful engagement with descendant communities.

 In acknowledging and affirming the aforementioned to be true, the UC Davis Department of Anthropology upholds its commitment to respectful treatment of human remains and to making archaeology an equitable practice that includes the voices of descendant communities in advancing our collective understanding of human diversity.

As part of our effort to respectfully engage descendant communities, we pledge to refrain from broadcasting human skeletal imagery of any ancestry in public venues such as advertisements or outreach events. We further commit to educating students and the public around respectful use of skeletal imagery.

 We conclude by acknowledging that the University of California Department of Anthropology is located on Patwin land and remains an important part of Patwin heritage and identity. Today, there are three federally recognized Patwin tribes: Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community, Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation, and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

 —Evolutionary Wing faculty, UC Davis Department of Anthropology

May 2021 (Draft: November 2020)