The Japan Times
January 15, 2000

U.S. rules bones are of Asian descent

 

SEATTLE (Reuters) The U.S. Interior Department said on Thursday that tests show the Kennewick Man skeleton found in southern Washington state in 1996 was that of a 9,300-year-old Native American, almost certainly descended from Asian ancestors.

The findings supported the popular theory that migrating Asians first populated North America about 20,000 years ago, and also mean that the skeleton could be returned to the earth without giving scientists more time to study it.

The government has not yet determined whether to allow DNA testing, saying it would offend some Native Americans and might yield useless results, given the age of the bones, said Frank McManamon, chief archaeologist for the National Park Service.

Instead the government will use a blend of Indian oral history, linguistic studies and other cultural evidence to attempt to establish Kennewick Man's affiliation with any of five modern tribes that have claimed him as an ancestor.

"The tribes have said they view any handling of the bones as offensive," McManamon said, adding that there may still be reasons for attempting DNA analysis.

Scientists embraced the government's findings, but also insisted that DNA and other tests were necessary to bolster them. They also rejected the suggestion that DNA testing would be difficult.

"You can't establish cultural affiliation through linguistics. Kennewick Man can't speak and we don't know his language," said David Smith, who had a bone sample snatched away as he was preparing DNA tests a year ago.

"The only credible thing to do is to confirm his Asian lineage with DNA tests," said Smith, an archaeologist at University of California-Davis.

Some local tribes have said they can't understand why more tests are necessary, noting that their religious tradition holds that they have been in the area since the beginning of time.

"This (government report) reaffirms my faith in our oral traditions," said Richard Buck, a spokesman for the Wanapum tribe, one of the five to claim Kennewick Man.

But Buck said he was saddened that Kennewick Man has been taken from the ground and undergone the testing that began last year.

"I was here for the cutting of the bones. That really hurt," he said.

Under the Native American Graves Protection Act, remains found to predate the 1492 Columbus voyage to America are deemed Indian and turned over to local tribes.