After more than eight millennia, a fellow has a right to rest in peace.
Scientists refer to him as Kennewick Man; Columbia River tribes prefer Ancient One. He has been the source of contention for almost two decades, after two college students found a human skull while they were wading in the Columbia River in Kennewick. Nearby were bones that, when put together, formed a full skeleton – one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in North America.
Since his discovery in 1996, his case has been also one of the most discussed and disputed anthropological issues of the international scientific world.
Radiocarbon dating showed he was at least 8,400 years old, and initial studies indicated that his ancestry was something other than Native American. What followed was a custody dispute for the ages involving scientists, Native American tribes and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on whose land the bones were found.
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The issue went to court, and in 2004 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled no cultural link could be proven between the skeleton and the tribes; the Yakama Nation joined the tribes in the case.
Since 1998, the remains have been stored – not exhibited – at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. Then in June of this year came the announcement that a team led by a University of Copenhagen geneticist had finished a DNA analysis using updated technology; the new results determined the bones are Native American.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has introduced a bill that would return the remains to the tribes by transferring the skeleton from the Corps of Engineers to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, which then would return them to the tribes. Fourth District Congressman Dan Newhouse supports the bill, and Gov. Jay Inslee has written a letter to the Corps that asks for the return of the remains.
For the tribes, it’s past time for the Ancient One to come home.
This excerpt is from the Yakima Herald-Republic.