July 28 - Who Should Get the Bones?

Posted on July 28, 2020

July 28, 1996: Hydroplane races! College students Will Thomas and David Deacy decided to float tubes down the Columbia River in an attempt to watch the exciting sport.

And they discovered an ancient skull!

(Actually, the pretty much tripped over it!)

An archeologist studied the skull and the area where it was found, and he was able to recover one of the most complete ancient skeletons ever found!

All this was in Kennewick, Washington, in the United States, and so this ancient man is called Kennewick Man. 

The skeleton was about 9 thousand years old! Wow!

Okay, here's where the controversy starts: who gets the bones?

There were three groups involved in a controversy. Two groups wanted the bones and that requested in court to obtain the bones: scientists who wanted to study them, and Native American tribes from the region where the skeleton was found. A third group, the Army Corps of Engineers, actually had possession of the skeleton.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was designed to return to Native Americans cultural objects as well as human remains that had for years (and years and years and years) been wrongfully taken away from them. But does that act include such an ancient skeleton? And if so...exactly which tribe should this 9-thousand-year-old skeleton be returned to?

In February 2004, a court decided that such ancient bones cannot be linked with any particular tribe. Still, with continued controversy, the Army Corps of Engineers only allowed  scientists to study the bones during a short period of time.

In 2015, a team of Danish scientists were able to determine through DNA analysis that the skeleton was, in fact, related to the native peoples of the Columbia River region.

The very peoples who had sued for the right to bury their ancient ancestor!

So finally the skeleton was returned to a coalition that included the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids. In February of 2017, about 200 representatives of five different tribes gathered in a secret location and buried Kennewick Man according to their own traditions.

Here is a long video that goes into way more detail about Kennewick Man.

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