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It's Official: Kennewick Man Goes Native January 13, 2000
by Kristin M. Romey

Scientists at the U.S. Department of the Interior have announced today the results of additional radiocarbon dating of Kennewick Man. The original 1996 radiocarbon date of 8410 ± 60 years has been corroborated by two samples which registered radiocarbon dates of 8130 ± 40 and 8410 ± 40 years. Two additional samples, however, have registered radiocarbon dates of 6940 ± 30 and 5750 ± 100 years; scientists noted that all of the samples dated contained very small amounts of carbon and collagen, making radiocarbon dating difficult.

In accordance with the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the government is expected to classify Kennewick Man as Native American. Under NAGPRA, any person or descendant of a person who lived in North America before European settlement--generally 500 years ago--is considered legally Native American. According to a January 13, 2000, memo from the National Park Service, this designation is "irrespective of when a particular group may have begun to reside in [the present-day United States], and irrespective of whether some or all of these groups were or were not culturally affiliated or biologically related to present-day Indian tribes."

In order for a tribe to claim Kennewick Man's remains, however, federal law requires that the tribe demonstrate a "cultural affiliation" with the remains. A coalition of five Northwest Indian tribes claims Kennewick Man as an ancestor and demands that his 350 bones be returned to them for burial. Anthropologists have filed a federal lawsuit to block repatriation of the remains, arguing that the time-dependent "500-year rule" is unscientific and legally flawed. They contend that DNA tests are necessary in order to determine if Kennewick Man shares a cultural affiliation with the tribes claiming him.

The District Court in Oregon has ordered the National Park Service to reach a conclusion on Kennewick Man's cultural affiliation by March 24, 2000. Four experts will submit a report based upon archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic, bio-archaeological, and traditional historic information.

DNA TESTING UPDATE - February 1, 2000

Francis McManamon, chief archaeologist for the National Park Service, announced yesterday that the Department of the Interior intends to try to obtain DNA samples from the skeletal remains of Kennewick Man for analysis. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has requested that the U.S. District Court in Portland, Orgeon, extend the March 24, 2000, deadline for determining Kennewick Man's cultural affiliation in order to accomodate the DNA analysis process.

"We believe that DNA analysis will help determine the biological and genetic racial ancestry of the remains, which has been the subject of controversy in this case from the beginning," explained McManamon. However, he warned that, "the very low levels of human bone collagen, compared with modern bones, that were detected in [Kennewick Man's] bone samples analyzed by radiocarbon labs are an indication that this is going to be a complicated process with no guarantees of a conclusive outcome."

* See also "Kennewick VI: The Saga Continues," September/October 1999, "K-Man in the Lab," May/June 1999, "Kennewick Update 3," ARCHAEOLOGY Online, February 23, 1999, "Kennewick Update 2," November/December 1998, "Kennewick Update 1," May/June 1997, "Kennewick Man Caught in Catch-22," ARCHAEOLOGY Online, June 26, 1997, "A Battle Over Bones," January/February 1997, and "Reburial Dispute," ARCHAEOLOGY Online, October 10, 1996.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America