A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Three years after the discovery of Kennewick Man, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has recommended further testing of the remains in a report filed on July 1 in U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon. Found at the edge of the Columbia River, the skeleton, possibly one of the oldest ever found in North America, was taken into custody by the Army Corps of Engineers in September 1996. The corps intended to return the remains to five American Indian tribes who filed a joint claim under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA), but eight scientists filed suit, alleging that the corps determined the remains were affiliated with the tribes without sufficient evidence. After years of legal wrangling, the corps handed over the remains to the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service (NPS), asking for help in determining their status under NAGPRA.
An initial NPS examination, completed this past spring, revealed that all 350 bone fragments were from one individual, a man 45-55 years at death; embedded in the pelvis is a stone point, about three inches in length and resembling a Cascade point used historically by Columbia Basin Indians; the wound had healed and was not the cause of death; the man had been muscular; his teeth were worn down to the roots, and he probably suffered chronic toothaches; he was buried intentionally shortly after death.
DOI Chief Consulting Archaeologist Francis P. McManamon said that "the analysis was unable to produce an accurate chronological date for the skeletal remains." A radiocarbon date of 8410 ± 60 B.P. was obtained on a sample of the bone before the Corps halted all study on the remains and Cascade points were used from ca. 9000 to 4500 B.P., but the NPS examination apparently yielded no corroborating evidence. For the purposes of NAGPRA more studies are required to make a final determination about whether the remains are Native American, says McManamon. DOI interprets Native American in NAGPRA matters as meaning "all tribes, peoples, and cultures that were residents of the lands comprising the United States prior to historically documented European exploration."
Two samples of bone are to be radiocarbon dated this September, according to McManamon. The results may be announced in a progress report on the investigation due to be presented to the District Court in early October. If the results indicate the remains are of Precolumbian date, NAGPRA applies. DOI will then investigate--using archaeological data, traditional, oral and documented histories of Columbia Basin tribes, and other relevant information--whether the remains are affiliated with any modern-day tribe or tribes to which they might be returned.