Scientists from across the country met on July 6 in the Puget Sound's Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus in Seattle for an intense study of ancient bones found along the Columbia River in 1996. After nearly nine years of intense litigation, the scientists gained access to the bones, known as the Kennewick Man, until July 15 and hope their study will answer some of their questions. The scientists also asked permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to test the fragments of bone left over from previous tests.

Wayne Smith, an archeological conservator with Texas A&M University, specializes in deciphering the stories of bones that have been under water. Doug Owsley, the lead scientist, said the algae stains and calcium deposits on Kennewick Man's leg bones would help decipher how the man came to be in the ground. The team tried to arrange the bones in anatomical order and worked to piece together a very exact plastic model of Kennewick Man's skull.

Further studies of Kennewick Man could be stopped if a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., passes so the wording of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act would let federally recognized tribes demand the return of remains, even if they cannot prove a link to a modern tribe. The tribes are particularly concerned about the testing that would destroy parts of the bones to examine the DNA.

Spiritual leaders of Northwest tribes, who battled to prevent scientific intrusion into the skeleton, say they hope the bones will eventually be laid to rest in the earth.

Allen Slickpoo Jr., a Nez Perce elder and spiritual leader who lives in Kamiah, Idaho, explained that intil the bones go back into the earth, the man's soul cannot rest. Northwest tribes consider themselves earth people and believe a person must be returned whole to the soil.

Armand Minthorn, a religious leader for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, said the tribes will not be giving up on the remains they believe to be their ancestor. Although they probably cannot stop the study, the goal and intent of the Northwest tribes is to get the remains back which will acknowledge the tribal way of life and show respect for the sacredness of those remains.

Naomi Sherer


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