A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
After two years of wrangling, Kennewick Man will finally be subjected to a thorough examination. Found in Kennewick, Washington, in July 1996, the 8,400-year-old skeleton has been a source of contention between Native American organizations that would like to rebury it and scientists who want to study it (see "A Battle Over Bones," January/February 1997).
In April 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers asked the Interior Department to decide what to do with the remains, and the National Park Service was asked to determine whether they were Native American, as defined in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and therefore subject to repatriation. The park service decided that additional study was needed to determine whether the remains were subject to NAGPRA, and if so whether they were affiliated with a particular modern tribe. In June it issued a draft proposal recommending step-by-step study, beginning with nondestructive tests like measurement of the bones and teeth and progressing, if necessary, to tests like genetic analysis and radiocarbon dating that require destruction of a small sample of bone. The plan recommended that the study begin in November at the Burke Museum in Seattle.
In July, eight scientists suing for permission to study the remains denounced the park service plan, arguing in part that genetic analysis and radiocarbon dating should be part of the first round of tests. They also objected to the choice of the Burke Museum, saying that some members of the museum staff were prejudiced against their suit. On September 2, Judge John Jelderks, the federal magistrate presiding over the case, ruled that the transfer should happen as proposed; the scientists have since withdrawn their objection to the Burke Museum. Once the skeleton is there and the park service has decided who will carry out the work, tests will begin; the park service has promised to make its findings public periodically.