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SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human

Apr 13, 2022

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, or NAGPRA, is supposed to curb the illegal possession of ancestral Native American remains and cultural items. But a year after it was passed by the U.S. federal government, a significant African burial ground in New York City was uncovered. And there was zero legislation in place for its protection. Dr. Rachel Watkins shares the story of the New York African Burial Ground—and what repatriation looks like for African American communities.


  • (00:00:44) Enter the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology and its NAGPRA controversy.
  • (00:03:19) A discovery in Manhattan is not covered by NAGPRA.
  • (00:05:19) Intro.
  • (00:05:44) Dr. Rachel Watkins, the New York African Burial Ground Project and Michael Blakey. 
  • (00:11:40) Dr. Rachel Watikins meets the Cobb Collection.
  • (00:23:44) Exploring Repatriation for the New York African Burial Ground Project.
  • (00:28:26) The issue of repatriation for the Cobb Collection.
  • (00:34:02) Revisiting season 4.
  • (00:40:49) Credits.


SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human, is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is also part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. This season was created in collaboration with the Indigenous Archaeology Collective and Society of Black Archaeologists, with art by Carla Keaton, and music from Jobii, _91nova, and Justnormal. For more information and transcriptions, visit  


Thank you this time also to The Harvard Review and their podcast, A Legacy Revealed for permitting us to use a clip from Episode 4 I Could See Family in Their Eyes, hosted by Raquel Coronell Uribe and Sixiao Yu and produced by Lara Dada, Zing Gee, and Thomas Maisonneuve.


Additional Sponsors:

This episode, and entire series, was made possible by the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, UC San Diego Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology, the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology at Brown University, UMASS Boston’s Fiske Center for Archaeological Research, UC Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility, and the Imago Mundi Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas.


Additional Resources:



Rachel Watkins is a biocultural anthropologist with an emphasis on African American biohistory and social history, bioanthropological research practices, and histories of U.S. biological anthropology.