Anthropological Discoveries

Kennewick Man Issue

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Does Skull Prove that the First Americans Came from Europe?

By Steve Connor, Science Editor for The National Review
December 2, 2002

Scientists in Britain have identified the oldest skeleton ever found on the American continent in a discovery that raises fresh questions about the accepted theory of how the first people arrived in the New World.

The skeleton’s perfectly preserved skull belonged to a 26-year-old woman who died during the last ice age on the edge of a giant prehistoric lake which once formed around an area now occupied by the sprawling suburbs of Mexico City.

Scientists from Liverpool’s John Moores University and Oxford’s Research Laboratory of Archaeology have dated the skull to about 13,000 years old, making it 2,000 years older than the previous record for the continent’s oldest human remains.

However, the most intriguing aspect of the skull is that it is long and narrow and typically Caucasian in appearance, like the heads of white, western Europeans today.

Modern-day native Americans, however, have short, wide skulls that are typical of their Mongoloid ancestors who are known to have crossed into America from Asia on an ice-age land bridge that had formed across the Bering Strait.

The extreme age of Peñon woman suggests two scenarios. Either there was a much earlier migration of Caucasian-like people with long, narrow skulls across the Bering Strait and that these people were later replaced by a subsequent migration of Mongoloid people.

Alternatively, and more controversially, a group of Stone Age people from Europe made the perilous sea journey across the Atlantic Ocean many thousands of years before Columbus or the Vikings.

Silvia Gonzalez, a Mexican-born archaeologist working at John Moores University and the leader of the research team, accepted yesterday that her discovery lends weight to the highly contentious idea that the first Americans may have actually been Europeans.

“At the moment it points to that as being likely. They were definitely not Mongoloid in appearance. They were from somewhere else. As to whether they were European, at this point in time we cannot say ‘no’,” Dr Gonzalez said.

The skull and the almost-complete skeleton of Peñon woman was actually unearthed in 1959 and was thought to be no older than about 5,000 years. It formed part of a collection of 27 early humans in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City that had not been accurately dated using the most modern techniques.

“The museum knew that the remains were of significant historical value but they hadn’t been scientifically dated,” Dr Gonzalez said.

“I decided to analyse small bone samples from five skeletons using the latest carbon dating techniques. I think everyone was amazed at how old they were,” she said.

Robert Hedges, the director of Oxford’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, who also dated the age of the Turin shroud, carried out the radiocarbon analysis, which is accurate to within 50 years.

“We are absolutely, 100 per cent sure that this is the date,” Dr Gonzalez said. The study has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication next year in the journal Human Evolution.

At 13,000 years old, Peñon woman would have lived at a time when there was a vast, shallow lake in the Basin of Mexico, a naturally enclosed high plain around today’s Mexico City, which would have been cooler and much wetter than it is today.

Huge mammals would have roamed the region’s grasslands, such as the world’s largest mammoths with 12-foot tusks, bear-sized giant sloths, armadillos as big as a car and fearsome carnivores such as the sabre-toothed tiger and great black bear.

The bones of Peñon woman, named after the “little heel” of land that would have jutted into the ancient lake, were well developed and healthy, showing no signs of malnutrition.

Dr Gonzalez found that the two oldest skulls analysed were both dolichocephalic, meaning that they were long and narrow-headed. The younger ones were short and broad – brachycephalic – which are typical of today’s native Americans and their Mongoloid ancestors from Asia.

The findings have a resonance with the skull and skeleton of Kennewick man, who was unearthed in 1996 in the Columbia River at the town of Kennewick in Washington state. The skull, estimated to be 8,400 years old, is also long and narrow and typically Caucasian.

James Chatters, one of the first anthropologists to study Kennewick man before it had been properly dated, even thought that the man may have been a European trapper who had met a sudden death sometime in the early 19th century.

Kennewick man became the most controversial figure in American anthropology when native tribes living in the region claimed that, as an ancestor, his remains should be returned to them under a 1990 law that gave special protection to the graves and remains of indigenous Americans.

The debate intensified after some anthropologists suggested that Kennewick man was Caucasian in origin and could not therefore be a direct ancestor of the native Americans living in the Kennewick area today.

Dr Gonzalez said that the identification of Peñon woman as the oldest known inhabitant of the American continent throws fresh light on the controversy over who actually owns the ancient remains of long-dead Americans.

“My research could have implications for the ancient burial rights of North American Indians because it’s quite possible that dolichocephalic man existed in North America well before the native Indians,” she said.

But even more controversial is the suggestion that Peñon woman could be a descendant of Stone Age Europeans who had crossed the ice-fringed Atlantic some 15,000 or 20,000 years ago.

This theory first surfaced when archaeologists found flint blades and spear points in America that bore a remarkable similarity to those fashioned by the Solutrean people of south-western France who lived about 20,000 years ago, when the ice age was at its most extreme. The Solutreans were the technologists of their day, inventing such things as the eyed needle and the heat treatment of flint to make it easier to flake into tools. They also built boats and fished.

Bruce Bradley, an American archaeologist and an expert in flint technology, believes that the Solutrean method of fashioning flints into two-sided blades matches perfectly the Stone Age flint blades found at some sites in American. One of these is the 11,500-year-old flint spear point found in 1933 at Clovis, New Mexico.

Dr Bradley said that the flint blades that came into America with the early Asian migrants were totally different in concept and mode of manufacture. Both the Clovis point and the Solutrean flints shared features that could only mean a shared origin, according to Dr Bradley.

Studies of the DNA of native Americans clearly indicated a link with modern-day Asians, supporting the idea of a mass migration across the Bering land bridge. But one DNA study also pointed to at least some shared features with Europeans that could only have derived from a relatively recent common ancestor who lived perhaps 15,000 ago – the time of the Solutreans.

Not every specialist, however, is convinced of the apparently mounting evidence of an early European migration. “I personally haven’t found it very convincing,” Professor Chris Stringer, the head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said.

“For a start, there are lots of examples in archaeology where various artefacts from different parts of the world can end up looking similar even though they have different origins,” he said.

“Most humans in the world at that time were long headed and it doesn’t surprise me that Peñon woman at 13,000 years old is also long headed.”

Nevertheless, the remarkable age of the young Palaeolithic woman who died by an ancient lake in Mexico some 13,000 years ago has once again stirred the controversy over the most extraordinary migration in human history.

Kennewick Man Transcends Political Correctness

By Alcestis ‘Oberg, USA Today
October 1, 2002

I thought that trials over forbidden knowledge went out with Galileo. But our own world-class scientists have been in court with the U.S. government for the past six years, fighting for the right to study the Kennewick Man.

The Kennewick Man’s problem is that he is not politically correct. Initial scientific studies on the 9,400-year-old skeleton — which was discovered beside the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash., in 1996 — found that he was not a Native American. What the findings suggested instead was that other races likely migrated to the Western Hemisphere over 30,000 years. His discovery contradicted the long-held belief that only a single northeast-Asian race came across the Bering Straits from Siberia approximately 12,000 years ago, thus challenging the conventional wisdom that Native Americans were the ”first Americans.”

In August, a federal court ruled that the scientists have the right to study the bones. The Bush administration has until Oct. 29 to decide whether to appeal the ruling, which would allow scientists to resume studies of the Kennewick Man or continue the court battle to block research.

The administration should not appeal the case. If the U.S. government were to continue the legal tussle with scientists, it would be put in the ludicrous position of trying to force acceptance of one discredited view of Paleo-American history — the Bering Straits theory — as a matter of law. The U.S. government should not be in the business of prohibiting the search for scientific truth because facts and discoveries might make some political entities uncomfortable.

Yet such battle lines were drawn within two weeks of the discovery of Kennewick Man, when the Umatilla tribe of Oregon claimed that under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) they had been in the area since the beginning of time and this ancestor’s bones would be desecrated by the scientists. The Clinton administration reacted in knee-jerk political fashion: It confiscated the skeleton and started to give it to the Umatilla tribe for reburial. But the scientists sued for the right to study Kennewick Man further, since they doubted he belonged to the Umatillas or any particular identifiable group or culture living today.

During the next six years, the government blocked the scientists, mishandled the ancient skeleton and buried the discovery site under tons of dirt and debris, preventing further investigations. Worse, in 2000, then-Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt issued his stunning ”1492” rule that scientists couldn’t study the bones because all bones and artifacts pre-dating Columbus’ voyage must be considered ”native American” and subject to tribal cultural claims.

Fortunately, the U.S. District Court for Oregon dismissed Babbitt’s conclusion in August as ”arbitrary and capricious” and thus cleared the way for the scientific investigation of Kennewick Man. That ruling brings us to today and the important decision facing the Bush administration.

Kennewick Man is a vital archeological discovery — the best of 35 Paleo-American skeletal remains we have.

From the first, Kennewick Man’s bones tell an amazing story of his tough and perilous Paleo-American life. An ancient spear point was embedded deep in his hip. His left elbow was broken, and he had bone damage from the infection that set in. His chest was crushed by a massive blow, breaking off ribs on either side — a fatal injury for most people. His skull was fractured by a right-handed person wielding a club.

But he survived all of this and lived to be between 45 and 55 years old, advanced old age for that time. To the end, Kennewick Man was beautifully symmetrical, not deformed or bowed by his numerous adversities.

Instead of appealing the ruling, the Bush administration has an opportunity to promote some fascinating science by:

* Moving Kennewick Man to the Smithsonian Institution, where ideal curatorial and research facilities exist.

* Giving scientists unrestricted access to the bones.

* Putting the discovery site back in its original condition under the guidance of archeologists and allowing further excavations to proceed unhindered.

* Establishing a rational overall policy, based on the well-reasoned court ruling, for future claims under NAGPRA.

It’s understandable that Native Americans object to having their burial sites disrupted and cultural artifacts looted, which occurred prior to NAGPRA. But that law should not allow Native Americans to deprive other people of their history either, or to claim every ancient artifact in America as their own without some demonstrable and rational cultural connection.

Similarly, it was never the intent of NAGPRA to freeze archeology in its tracks and prevent it from going beyond one ”acceptable” view of history.

If scientists finally get access to Kennewick Man’s remains and to his last resting place, he may speak eloquently to us of the possessions he carried, of the culture he valued, of the race he belonged to, of the family that may lay buried nearby.

And larger questions beckon scientists, too: Despite his obvious vigor, toughness and bravery, why did Kennewick Man’s descendants not survive in the New World?

No Native American should be offended by the corollary to that question: If this hemisphere was inhabited by wave after wave of other races and cultures for tens of thousands of years, why did Native Americans and their rich culture alone survive?

Kennewick Man: Mediator Between Past and Future

Kate Riley, Seattle Times
September 9, 2002

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a guy in the news who used to share my old stomping grounds.

We both are fairly recent transplants from Kennewick and reside in North Seattle. Actually, I reside; he reposes — at the Burke Museum under lock and key.

I’ve been enamored of Kennewick Man, the remains of a man who died 9,400 years ago, ever since that hot July day in 1996 when his skull was found by wading hydroplane race fans between Columbia Cup heats.

When it turned out the 380 bones found were not those of a victim of recent foul play but of a man who nine millennia before walked the same area where a friend and I met to walk on Saturdays, I was hooked on the possibilities. I wondered about this tough guy, who walked around for half of his 45 years with a spear point embedded in his hip. I wondered if he enjoyed the shrub steppe landscape and the Columbia River as much as I did, or if he was too focused on survival to care.

Thanks to an Aug. 30 federal court ruling, Kennewick Man soon might be able to share some of these answers and help tell the story of the earliest Americans.

I’ve rooted all along for the eight scientists who sued to study the remains when the federal government hastily decided to turn them over to five tribes who claim Kennewick Man as a distant ancestor.

I am also sympathetic to the tribes’ concerns. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 is a righteous law intended to return Native American remains and artifacts to the tribes with whom they are culturally affiliated.

Kennewick Man’s lineage, however, is not so easy to determine. Limited studies to determine the remains’ cultural affiliation found his features are very different from those of the Native Americans who claim him as a grandfather at least 375 generations removed — that’s 375 “greats.” Rather, he resembles people of Polynesia or the Ainu of Japan — as well as other ancient skeletons found in North America. Some experts say he looks more like the 25,000-year-old remains of a woman found near Beijing than modern Native Americans, suggesting links to Asia. Kennewick Man should belong not just to Native Americans but to all of humanity. Potentially, his bones provide a link to our common past, perhaps before evolution divided humans into races.

Unfortunately, the law is vague on what to do about cases such as Kennewick Man, where the remains are so exceptional in their age and features that a credible affiliation is not possible.

And there’s the rub. The Army Corps of Engineers, which owned the beach where Kennewick Man was found, and later the Interior Department have maintained the repatriation act applies. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt ruled the remains were Native American, because they were found in the United States and pre-dated Columbus’ landing in America.

Setting aside that this “1492 rule” ignores evidence of earlier Viking visits, Babbitt’s decision ignored that Kennewick Man’s features are distinct from those who claim to be his descendents.

U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks, the referee of this battle between science and Native American beliefs, disagreed strongly with the government. His 73-page ruling called the decision “arbitrary and capricious” and determined the repatriation law does not apply. Jelderks ordered the scientists be permitted to study the remains.

Government attorneys aren’t saying yet whether they’ll appeal. But they shouldn’t. And the Interior Department’s NAGPRA Review Committee, which is in the process of drafting rules to handle these culturally unidentifiable remains, should carefully consider the conclusions of Jelderks’ meticulous ruling. The committee’s next meeting is Nov. 10-11 in Seattle, and it had planned to consider a proposed rule that would give such remains to the tribes that have lived in the area where they were found.

That’s an inadequate solution, because it assumes that ancient people stayed put, never moving over generations. Early findings about the 11,000-year-old remains, Pan Era Woman, found recently along the Texas Gulf Coast, suggest a diet of someone who lived inland, far from where her bones were found.

So far, a repatriation act claim has not been made for Pan Era Woman’s remains also found on federal property, but that is a possibility. Other ancient remains yet to be found could be subject to the same sort of legal battle as over Kennewick Man, which so far has cost American taxpayers $3 million.

Better that Congress move quickly to clarify what should be done with these ancient remains that cannot be traced to modern Native Americans. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, had proposed an amendment in the last Congress that would have done so. A spokesman said last week he might try again.

I hope he does. Kennewick Man and similar ancient remains have much to tell the world about our common heritage. And now, barring an ill-considered government appeal, Kennewick Man will get the chance.

Kate Riley’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times.

Judge: Group Should Get Skeleton

By William McCall, Associated Press Writer
August 31, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – More than six years after the discovery of one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America, a federal judge overturned a decision to give the bones to Indian tribes for reburial and ruled that scientists can keep them for more study.

U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks said he reviewed 20,000 pages of documents before concluding that “nothing I have found in a careful examination of the administrative record” supported the government’s decision to give the bones to the tribes.

Scientific study of the ancient skeleton will benefit all people, including tribes, by offering clues to early migration and culture, said plaintiff Robson Bonnichsen, formerly director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Oregon State University.

“Without studying it we’ll never know about these early populations,” said Bonnichsen, who is now at Texas A&M.

Bonnichsen was one of eight scientists who sued soon after the 9,300-year-old skeleton was discovered in July 1996 in Kennewick, Wash.

The scientists said it was extremely rare to find a nearly intact skeleton so old. Initial analysis also indicated it differed from modern Indian tribes, prompting speculation about whether it supported theories such as several waves of migration from different parts of Asia to populate North America.

Alan Schneider, a lawyer representing the scientists, said the ruling should set a precedent for dealing with archaeological discoveries. He said the scientists were prepared to take the case “all the way to the Supreme Court” if the government decides to appeal.

Justice Department ( news – web sites) spokesman Dana Perino said government attorneys would have to review the ruling before they could comment.

The judge also criticized former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the Army Corps of Engineers for the way they handled the case.

Jelderks wrote that the federal government “failed to consider all the relevant factors, had acted before it had all of the evidence, had failed to fully consider legal questions, had assumed facts that proved to be erroneous, had failed to articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action, had followed a ‘flawed’ procedure, and had prematurely decided the issue.”

Babbitt backed the Corps of Engineers, which manages Columbia River navigation, saying the remains were culturally affiliated with Northwest tribes because they had an oral tradition of history in the general geographic area where the bones were found.

Babbitt said he was acting under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, a law intended to prevent theft and illegal trafficking of Indian artifacts, protect tribal burial sites and restore the remains of ancestors to the tribes.

The scientists argued that no group could establish a direct link to the bones under the terms of the law.

The scientists emphasized their legal fight was against the government’s interpretation of the law, not tribal tradition.

“I’m sure Native Americans see it differently, but this suit was against the government, not the Indian tribes,” said anthropologist Richard Jantz at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, one of the eight scientists.

Kennewick Man information site compiled by the Tri-City Herald

Experts Hope to Look for Secrets in Kennewick Man’s Remains

By Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
September 4, 2002

A group of eight eminent scientists and their colleagues is starting to prepare a plan to study Kennewick Man following a judge’s ruling that overturned a federal agency decision to block independent study of the ancient skeleton.

The scientists’ proposal is likely to include an effort to piece together the remains — something that wasn’t done in earlier government-sponsored studies — to discern any secrets the rebuilt body may hold.

“Our study team will look at the entire skeleton — as much as he can be reassembled — and say how the different colorations … bone fragments … and weathering patterns relate to each other,” said Alan Schneider, a Portland lawyer who represents the scientists. “What do they tell us?”

Scientists also plan to remeasure the bones to check the accuracy of the government’s study. It’s all part of an effort to learn more about early inhabitants of the New World.

“I think (the scientists) will advance the ball quite a bit,” said Schneider, who still was glowing about Friday’s order by U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks in federal district court in Portland.

“What we can get is a good comprehensive foundation of information about the skeleton,” Schneider said, “so as more skeletons are studied we can get a more comprehensive view about what happened in the peopling of the Americas.”

Jelderks told the scientists to submit a study plan to the government within 45 days.

Schneider expects his clients’ study will involve more than a dozen experts and will be performed at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. The bones have been stored there for the last few years.

As the Kennewick Man case unfolded, it has been assumed by many observers that the issues are important enough that either the government or the scientists would appeal a losing decision in Jelderks’ court. In the wake of a scathing legal loss, however, it’s not clear how much interest the Bush administration has in pursuing the costly case left over from the Clinton era.

Said Schneider: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they did (appeal) and I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t. We are mentally prepared to defend it all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Department of the Interior officials did not return calls Tuesday, nor did representatives of three Northwest tribes who supported the government’s determination that the remains were Native American and therefore should be turned over to five modern tribes for reburial.

The central component of Jelderks’ decision was that the government could not reasonably assert that the 9,000-year-old Kennewick remains were linked to a modern tribe under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA.

The judge’s 73-page opinion dismantles almost everything about the government’s arguments that the remains are legally Native American.

Jelderks wrote that the government gave “only cursory consideration” to applicable laws, failed to explain illogical conclusions or misinterpreted federal statute in a way that makes its application absurd.

“The Secretary (of the Interior) did not articulate a cogent rationale that supports his finding of cultural affiliation,” Jelderks said. “The secretary neither identified the earlier group to which the Kennewick Man belonged nor explained how he inferred a ‘shared group identity’ over a span of 9,000 years between the tribal claimants and this unknown earlier group.”

Jelderks focused on the definition of Native American, which the government said included essentially all remains dating prior to the arrival of Columbus in the New World in 1492. “Nothing in the statute indicates that Congress intended to define Native American as including people or objects with no relationship to present-day American Indians,” the judge said.

“Under the (government’s) interpretation, possibly long-extinct immigrant peoples who may have differed significantly — genetically and culturally — from any surviving groups, would all be uniformly classified as Native American based solely upon the age of their remains,” he wrote.

The Society for American Archaeology, which helped draft NAGPRA in 1990, said in a news statement that it “welcomes the clarity the court’s opinion will bring to how NAGPRA is interpreted in the future.”

The society added, “The decision sets many important precedents that will balance the legitimate interests of tribes in reclaiming the remains of direct ancestors with the equally legitimate public interest in understanding the human past.”

The federal decision to give the bones to tribes was the result of federal bureaucrats biased in favor of the American Indians, said the judge. “(The government’s) procedures, actions and decisions have consistently indicated a desire to reach a particular result,” he wrote.

Such bias was shown by what Jelderks said was largely undisputed evidence that federal agency decision makers secretly gave tribal leaders advance copies of documents and secretly met with tribal leaders at a critical time in the decision-making process, which he said allowed tribes the ability to influence agency leaders.

Jelderks also took the Corps of Engineers to task again for its 1998 efforts to bury the Columbia Park site where Kennewick Man was found, despite its possible benefit in sorting out the archaeological puzzle he left behind.

“It appears the tribal claimants’ concern about further site investigation was the principal factor in the decision to cover the site,” Jelderks said. “This action was consistent with (the government’s) approach throughout the litigation, which has been marked by an appearance of bias.”

Kennewick Man and the Role of Science

July 2, 2001

Five years after his discovery, Kennewick Man is still in a custody battle between the federal government and some anthropologists, who made their arguments at a hearing last week in Portland.

The needs of science should win this dispute. The bones are too old and too unlike an American Indian’s for the federal government to accept all Indian claims, and the bones are exactly the sort of evidence needed to answer the question of who first settled North America.

That is a scientific question in which the tribes involved have not been interested. “There’s nothing we need to learn from this set of remains,” said Debra Croswell, spokeswoman for the Umatilla Tribe, last October. “We already know about ourselves. We know who we are.”

“We already know what happened 10,000 years ago,” said Umatilla leader Armand Minthorn. He also said, “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land from the beginning of time. We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.”

These are statements of belief. They may be respected as belief, but they cannot settle a question for those outside the circle of belief. Cultural histories of Native Americans can be respected and cherished, but not at the expense of legitimate scientific inquiry.

What we know of Kennewick Man, as separate from what may be believed about him, is limited to a short time of study. Upon eyeballing his skull, one anthropologist proclaimed him to be “a white guy.”

Measurement led to a more precise conclusion that he was neither American Indian nor European, but was closest to the Polynesians or the Ainu. That suggests that the American Indians, though the oldest existing population of the Americas, may not descend from the first settlers.

Troubling as that may be, such a hypothesis must be tested. And yet, without old bones, anthropologists cannot test it. We know Kennewick Man is 9,300 years old only because the bone was tested. In doing that, a scientist disregarded the wishes of several tribes who would have buried Kennewick Man immediately.

A federal law gives the tribes custody of the remains of Native Americans. But is Kennewick Man a Native American?

Legally, he may be; anthropologically, he apparently is not. Even if he were, he is far too old – 450 generations – to be traced to any tribe.

The court in Portland should find for the scientists. If it does not, then Congress should rewrite the federal law to ensure that bones of more than a certain age – say, 5,000 years – should be exempt. The alternative is to rule out an entire branch of science.

Scientists Claim Clinton Blocked Kennewick Man Research

By William McCall, AP
April 18, 2001

Scientists who want to study the ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man contend the Clinton administration improperly tried to prevent their research to avoid a messy debate over how the first inhabitants of North America arrived.

Link: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation
Link: Department of Interior Info.
Link: Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center

The government allowed “inexcusable” contacts between White House staff and members of five American Indian tribes who sought to bury the skeleton, said documents filed in federal court Monday to support the scientists.

The Interior Department decided last year that the nearly complete 9,000-year-old skeleton should be given to the tribes for burial.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department said the agency will formally respond in court on May 17, the deadline to file a response. But officials say they did nothing wrong.

“We believe all contacts were proper and consistent with statute and administrative practice,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna.

A coalition of five Northwest tribes claimed the skeleton after it was found in 1996 along the shoreline of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash. The tribes say Kennewick Man is their ancestor and the bones should be reburied.

But eight prominent scientists from universities and the Smithsonian Institution sued for the right to study the skeleton. The scientists say further study of Kennewick Man could reveal clues about the first humans on the continent.

Attorneys for the scientists say the Interior Department under President Clinton and former Secretary Bruce Babbitt violated ethical standards, alleging officials “coached the coalition on how to plead its case.”

The scientists argue that the decision to hand over the bones did not meet requirements of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act because the government cannot prove the bones belong to an ancestor of any living tribe.

Attorneys Alan Schneider and Paula Barran also say the government violated the separation of church and state by using religious tribal beliefs to make critical decisions.

They contend the government accepted tribes’ religious beliefs “as the ‘truth’ of past events” contrary to scientific information, and started and ended at least one consultation with prayer, conveying “a message of endorsement.”

Burying the bones would violate the First Amendment, Schneider argues, because “this skeleton is like a book” that should be made available for study.

“It is not for the government to determine who can read the book and what can be done with the information that can be obtained from it,” Schneider said Wednesday.

The scientists have already argued the Interior Department violated the National Historic Preservation Act when it covered the site where the skeleton was found with 500 tons of rocks and soil, then planted trees and shrubs before anthropologists could conduct further excavation.

Kennewick Man Lawsuit Reactivated

By Aviva L. Brandt, Associated Press Writer
October 25, 2000

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – A federal judge is allowing a lawsuit over one of the oldest and most complete human skeletons ever found in North America to go forward, setting in motion a case that could ultimately redefine the term “Native American.”

U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks on Wednesday reactivated a 1996 lawsuit by scientists who want to continue studying Kennewick Man, a set of 9,000-year-old bones that have already forced anthropologists to rethink theories about the origin of Native Americans.

Five American Indian tribes have claimed him as an ancestor, and have said study of the bones would violate their religious traditions.

The lawsuit contesting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision to turn the bones over to the tribes was put on hold, pending research by the Interior Department. Last month, the department decided the tribes should be allowed to rebury the bones. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said he determined the remains were “culturally affiliated” with the tribes because they were found near their aboriginal lands.

During a status conference Wednesday, Jelderks questioned whether he understood the Justice Department’s position that any human remains or artifacts that predate Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492 are by definition “Native American.”

Under that theory, for instance, any remains of Vikings from their five or more voyages to North America around the year 1000 would be considered “Native American” and given to modern-day tribes for reburial.

After the government lawyers confirmed their definition, Jelderks told lawyers for the tribes – the Umatilla, the Yakama, the Colvilles, the Wanapum and the Nez Perce – to consider whether they agree because it “might have implications beyond this case.”

Kennewick Man was discovered in the shallows of the Columbia River in 1996 in Kennewick, Wash.

The skeleton’s skull has features that are dissimilar to those of modern American Indians. Anthropologists who studied the bones for the Interior Department have said Kennewick Man appeared to have the strongest connection to populations from Polynesia and southern Asia.

The discovery could support newer theories that the continent’s earliest arrivals came not by a land bridge between Russia and Alaska – a long-held theory – but by boat or some other route.

Eight anthropologists, including two from the Smithsonian Institution, who filed the lawsuit say they hope further study and tests could help unmask the ethnic identities of the first humans on this continent, where they came from, and what their cultures were like. But the tribes say that testing already done for the government is enough.

Jelderks scheduled arguments in the case for June 19.

Kennewick Man – A Case for Amending Repatriation Law

Editorial Minneapolis Star Tribune
September 30, 2000

It borders on the farcical to declare, as Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has done, that 9,000-year-old, possibly Caucasoid bones are subject to the repatriation claims of modern-day Indian tribes.

But responsibility for this absurd outcome belongs not solely to Babbitt and his subordinates in the Department of Interior. The case of Kennewick Man illustrates quite sharply how an overly broad federal law, written to address grave-robbing, is being used instead to sabotage legitimate research.

Without question, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 was directed at disgraceful treatment of Indian burial grounds and remains. It empowered tribes to reclaim the bones and possessions of their ancestors — some quite recently deceased — from museums, laboratories, schools and other institutions that often treated them with disrespect.

In many cases the tribes find it easy to prove, with evidence ranging from associated artifacts to DNA matching, a direct link between living Indians and the remains. But in other instances the link is argued on the basis of “cultural affiliation.”

How broad a standard is that? In the case of the Kennewick bones, unearthed along the Columbia River four years ago, five separate Indian tribes have satisfied the government of such an affiliation based on some oral history and an association with the Columbia plateau.

Never mind that the tribes can’t show any archaeological evidence of their existence, or residence, that goes back more than about 3,000 years. Never mind that the only artifact associated with the bones — a spear point lodged in a hip — doesn’t say much about the culture of Kennewick Man or his attacker. Never mind that some anthropologists say the remains appear Caucasian, while others say they resemble populations of Polynesia or southern Asia.

Above all, never mind that these 380 bones — comprising one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in North America — have much to tell scientists about the early patterns of migration and settlement on this continent (some of which might undercut Indian claims that no Europeans set foot in North America before Columbus or the Vikings).

Some of these scientists will now resume their lawsuit over access to the bones. One can hope they will persuade a court that Babbitt’s decision should be overturned. But even if they prevail, the Kennewick case points to a clear need for revisions in the repatriation law.

The law now assumes that any bones dating back before 1492 are “Native American,” a concept increasingly under challenge from evidence that the continent may have been visited — and inhabited — by different peoples at different points in time. This provision should be replaced with a requirement for scientifically established links between ancient remains and a modern people. The “cultural affiliation” standard should also be discarded, in favor of requiring some minimum of scientific support for tribal claims.

As it stands, the law permits entirely too much mischief — of which the Kennewick case is only the most ludicrous example — by tribes whose claims are rooted mostly in politics or wishful thinking.

Bad Science from Babbitt

The Rocky Mountain News
September 27, 2000

The Issue: Interior chief rules that ancient skeleton must go to tribes
The Rocky’s View: Congress never intended to stifle study of prehistoric humans

What would you call people who have spent years obstructing scientific inquiry on one of the most fascinating questions involving the history of humans in the Western Hemisphere? How would you characterize a group that would dump 600 tons of dirt and boulders on a critical archeological site, perhaps burying it forever, while justifying their action with an explanation that would embarrass Pinocchio himself?

Are they members of some obscure anti-science sect? Modern-day Luddites? Followers of the Unabomber?

Sadly, no. The correct answer is federal officials.

On Monday, the chain of bad federal decisions continued. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt ruled that the 9,000-year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man should be given to five Indian tribes who claim him as an ancestor. The tribes want to withhold the skeleton from scientific study and bury it, claiming the right to do so under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. Babbitt has now sided with the tribes, although he did say his decision was a “close call” and involved “ambiguities in the data.”

“Ambiguities”? Yes, that is one way to put it. Babbitt’s claim to have linked a 9,000 year-old skeleton to modern Indian tribes on the basis of its location along the Columbia River and native oral traditions is, scientifically speaking, about as sophisticated as alchemy. Did Babbitt also consult a Ouija board before rendering his opinion? “Staggeringly dumb,” is what a lawyer for eight anthropologists who have sued for the right to study the bones called Babbitt’s ruling, and her quip hits the bull’s eye.

If there is one constant in human history, it’s that people don’t stay in one place. In the era of Kennewick Man, most humans were at least semi-nomadic all of the time.

Another constant is that human cultures change. It makes no sense whatever, for example, to call someone “Irish” who lived 9,000 years ago on the island now known as Ireland, or to describe an Iceman who once tramped through the Alps an “Italian” or “Swiss.” It is equally senseless to suggest that Kennewick Man could have been related culturally to modern tribes — even if a genetic link were to be established.

Two years ago, another attorney for the scientists succinctly explained what’s at stake. “The bottom line in this case is, can the government arbitrarily decide who is going to get information about American prehistory?” said Alan L. Schneider. “It’s not as though the scientists are asking for permission to study someone’s grandmother or great-grandmother. Four hundred thirty generations separate Kennewick Man from modern people. The Kennewick Man is the common heritage of all Americans and should be studied for the benefit of all.”

If Babbitt’s decision is upheld in the courts, the United States could become virtually the only place in the world where ancient human remains are off-limits to anthropological study. The greatest scientific nation in history would be adopting the head-in-the-sand attitude of a pre-literate society. Indeed, the Army Corps of Engineers already seems to have adopted such a policy. Two years ago, for example, the corps dumped tons of dirt and boulders on the site where Kennewick Man was found, thwarting the search for additional bones.

The Interior Department that Babbitt heads is the home of such science-based enterprises as the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management. Maybe it’s time to add another agency to the list: The Bureau to Suppress Anthropological Progress.

Choosing Ignorance Government Makes Wrong Decision on Kennewick Man

Oregon Live
September 26, 2000

So there’s no DNA left in the Kennewick Man’s bones, no way to determine if the 9,000-year-old skeleton found along the Columbia River is related to modern American Indian tribes.

Yet Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has decided that Kennewick Man should be given to five Northwest tribes for a quick reburial.

If the decision announced Monday is upheld by the courts, the nation’s anthropologists may as well stop pondering the mysteries of the past, and start worrying about the future — their future. Because if the law requires one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America to be handed over to the tribes and kept away from researchers, that doesn’t leave scientists in this country a whole lot to work with.

While the Interior Department is prepared to give the skeleton to the tribes, eight prominent anthropologists, including one from the Smithsonian Institution, still will fight in a federal lawsuit filed in Portland for the right to study the bones. We hope they win.

Indian tribes have every right to be sensitive about the unearthing of Native American remains in the name of research, but Kennewick Man isn’t a case of grave robbing. Researchers discovered a nearly complete skeleton after two college students found the skull in the shallows of the Columbia near Kennewick in the summer of 1996.

Scientists say that research on the bones could help answer questions about the origin of the first peoples to come to North America.

These are profound questions, not idle scientific curiosities. Reburying this skeleton without research amounts to a deliberate choice of ignorance.

Kennewick Man’s Last Stand Babbitt is Trying to Slam the Door Shut on this Find

By John J. Miller, National Review
September 26, 2000

The most controversial set of ancient human remains ever found in North America will be handed over to Indian tribes for burial before researchers can conduct a full study of them, announced Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on Monday. The decision affects the Kennewick Man skeleton, accidentally discovered by boating fans along the Columbia River four years ago, and it can only be described as a victory for radical multiculturalism over careful science.

Most people don’t know the names of their grandparents’ grandparents, but Babbitt insisted that the tribes petitioning for the remains have a right to them because they’ve occupied the area in Washington state where Kennewick Man was found “for millennia.” Babbitt says he knows this is true because of the tribes’ “oral histories.”

The idea that any oral history stretches back 9,300 years — the estimated age of Kennewick Man — frankly stretches the truth. So does the notion that any modern Indian tribe even existed back then in anything like the cultural form it does today. Ninety centuries ago, the Pyramids hadn’t been built — they were begun, in fact, on a date more contemporaneous with our own time than with Kennewick Man’s.

Yet this is the basis for the government’s decision giving the remains to Indian activists, who intend to bury them without permitting a complete examination.

The case is still tied up in court — a group of prominent scientists sued the federal government after it seized the bones from an anthropology lab four years ago with the intention of giving them to the tribes, under the auspices of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. A judge told the government it had to weigh its decision more carefully, which Babbitt now claims to have done.

If Babbitt’s ruling stands, the loss to science is beyond comprehension. Bones this old are exceedingly rare, and Kennewick Man offers a vital look at the prehistoric settling of North America. These are a deeply intriguing set of remains, too, as they may share Caucasoid traits not found in today’s Indian populations.

That’s not to say Kennewick Man was white. Nobody knows the color of his skin, and it’s a mistake even to care very much: Projecting modern racial categories onto the ancient past is as big an error as projecting tribal ones.

Some scientists have compared Kennewick Man’s features to the ancient Ainu, an aboriginal Japanese group, or perhaps those of Southeast Asian or Polynesian populations. Without further investigation, however, none of these tantalizing links can be explored. DNA testing — perhaps of a type currently beyond the reach of science — might reveal important information about how the New World came to have people in it.

The discovery of Kennewick Man four years ago opened a door to the past, but the federal government has allowed scientists only to glimpse through the portal, rather than the right to walk through it. Now Babbitt is trying to slam the door shut, throw the deadbolt, and destroy the key.