Secretary Jewell Announces Return of Native American Funerary Objects and Human Remains to Fallon Paiute Shoshone Indian Tribe

Objects and remains found in Spirit Cave, Nevada

Last edited 09/29/2021

Date: November 23, 2016
Steve Clutter,; (775) 861-6629

RENO, Nev. – The Department of the Interior announced today that effective November 18, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) transferred control of human remains and funerary objects found in Spirit Cave, Nevada to the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Indian Tribe.

This transfer means that the Fallon Paiute Shoshone, which is the closest Tribe living on aboriginal lands near the known burial site, now has full legal control and may take permanent possession of the Spirit Cave Assemblage.

“Returning the remains and objects found at Spirit Cave to the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe is an example of the Administration’s commitment to work with Native American governments in coming together to resolve issues,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “I am pleased that these remains are being returned to where they rightfully belong.”

“The BLM has consulted extensively with the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe in recent years regarding the Spirit Cave Assemblage,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “We are pleased that we have found resolution for transfer of the remains and objects and are able to hand over these important cultural items to the Tribe.”

Spirit Cave was located by archaeologists Sydney and Georgia Wheeler in 1940 during salvage excavations conducted by the Nevada State Parks Commission east of Fallon, Nevada.  The human remains of four individuals, dating from 5,400 to 10,600 years ago, and 10 associated funerary objects, known as the Spirit Cave Assemblage, were found in the cave, and are being curated at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, Nevada.

In the mid-1990s, the Nevada State Museum had textile samples from the Spirit Cave Assemblage analyzed for radiocarbon dating. The results indicated an age in excess of 10,000 years for one set of the burials, a mummified set of remains now believed to be one of the oldest in North America. 

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