In the late 19th century, Native American archaeological sites in the United States were regarded not as sacred sites that merited the respect of a Western graveyard, but, at best, as places of scientific inquiry into the “American” past. Native pre-history was regarded as a natural resource, and it became an American past time to dig up Indian burials, a practice that inspired American poet William Carlos Williams to write in his 1925 prose poem In The American Grain,
“The land! Don’t you feel it? Doesn’t it make you want to go out and lift dead Indians tenderly from their graves, to steal from them – as if it must be
clinging even to their corpses – some authenticity, that which –
Here not there.” (p. 74)
This circa 1905 photograph shows University of Minnesota geology professor Newton Winchell excavating the Dakota Cambria village site outside of Mankato, Minnesota. Archaeologists in the state of Minnesota did not stop excavation of Native mounds until the mid-1970s.