- Scientists to Begin Studying Kennewick Man
By WILLIAM McCALL, Associated Press WriterWed Jun 29, 9:44 AM ET
After nearly a decade of court battles, scientists plan to begin
studying the 9,300-year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man next week.
A team of scientists plans to examine the bones at the University of
Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle beginning July 6, according to
their attorney, Alan Schneider.
Four Northwest Indian tribes had opposed the study, claiming the
skeleton could be an ancestor who should be buried. The Interior
Department and the Army Corps of Engineers had sided with the tribes.
But a federal judge in Portland, backed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals, ruled that the researchers could study the bones to determine
how the man died and to find clues to prehistoric life in North America.
"What they're getting is absolutely essential baseline information that
has never been obtained for this skeleton," Schneider said Tuesday.
The bones quickly attracted attention from scientists after they were
found in 1996 on a Columbia River bank near Kennewick, Wash.
The skeleton is one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found
on the continent. The long, narrow shape of the skull shows
characteristics unlike modern American Indians, raising questions that
researchers hope to answer with extensive study.
"Understanding human variation is really critical," said Cleone
Hawkinson, Portland anthropologist who founded Friends of America's Past
to support scientific access to the ancient remains. "We can't close off
an entire chapter in history."
She noted the eight anthropologists who filed the original lawsuit
seeking access had to pay for their legal costs and the research, or
seek funding for it. No government money was involved.
"It's all coming out of the scientists' pockets," Hawkinson said.
The researchers plan to do what is called a "taphonomic" examination of
the skeleton, taking measurements and making observations about the
processes that affect animal and plant remains as they become
fossilized. Further study is planned based on the initial findings,
"Taphonomy is really a forensic examination," Schneider said. "You try
to determine everything that has affected the skeleton from day of death
until you study it."
A coalition of four tribes - the Umatilla, Yakama, Colville and Nez
Perce - claimed the bones were covered by the Native American Graves
Protection and Repatriation Act and belonged to the tribes.
U.S. District Judge John Jelderks and the appeals court, however, ruled
the tribes could prove no direct link to the bones and the act did not
The tribes have appealed the most recent 9th Circuit ruling, but
attorneys involved in the case and Jelderks' office said a decision
still is pending. Calls to tribal officials were not immediately
Legislation remains under consideration in Congress that would allow
federally recognized tribes to claim ancient remains even if they cannot
prove a link to a current tribe.
On the Net:
Friends of America's Past: http://www.friendsofpast.org
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