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Fri Aug 30,10:25 PM ET
By WILLIAM McCALL, Associated Press Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A federal judge Friday ordered the U.S. government to
let scientists study the bones of Kennewick Man, an ancient skeleton that
could offer rare clues to how the first people arrived in America.
The 9,300-year-old bones have been the center of an intense legal battle
between scientists, who want to study the remains, and the federal
government, which had ruled the bones belong to Northwest tribes who claim
the remains as an ancient tribal member.
"Allowing study is fully consistent with applicable statutes and
regulations, which are clearly intended to make archaeological information
available to the public through scientific research," wrote U.S. Magistrate
Jelderks had repeatedly criticized the Army Corps of Engineers and the
Interior Department for how they handled the dispute. The judge had said he
felt the corps made a hasty decision to recognize a tribal claim to the
He has also criticized the government for delaying tests on the age of the
bones and delaying its response to questions about determining cultural
affiliation with modern tribes.
Scientists want to study the skeleton to see if it represents some unknown
source of migration to North America apart from the traditional theory of
people walking from Asia across a land bridge to North America.
Five tribes along the Columbia River are seeking possession of the bones to
The bones were found in July 1996 along the banks of the Columbia River near
Kennewick, Wash. They are being stored at the University of Washington's
Burke Museum until the case is resolved.
Scientists argued that former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt overstepped
his authority by ruling the skeleton was culturally affiliated with
Northwest tribes. Babbitt argued that the tribes had an oral tradition of
history in the general area where the bones were found.
Babbitt was acting under a federal law intended to prevent theft and illegal
trafficking of American Indian artifacts, protect tribal burial sites and
restore the remains of ancestors to the tribes.
The law says that federal agencies or museums shall return remains or
associated objects to tribes that request them and can show a direct link to
The scientists, however, argued that no group can establish a direct link
that extends 9,000 years.
"Babbitt said oral tradition trumped everything else," said anthropologist
Richard Jantz at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, one of the
scientists who sued the government to block the return of the bones to the
The scientists said it was extremely rare to find a nearly intact skeleton
so old. Initial analysis also indicated it differed from modern American
Indian tribes, prompting speculation about whether it supported theories
such as several waves of migration from different parts of Asia to populate
Dana Perino, spokeswoman for the Justice Department ( news - web sites) in
Washington, D.C., said government attorneys would have to review the ruling
before they could comment.
The scientists said they were happy with the ruling, but emphasized it was a
legal battle against a government agency's interpretation of the law, not
"I'm sure Native Americans see it differently, but this suit was against the
government, not the Indian tribes," said Jantz.
The case has cost taxpayers an estimated $3 million, according to lawyers
for the scientists.
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