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"Free at Last! - A victory for science in the Kennewick Man case."

September 4, 2002

"Scientists may study Kennewick Man, ruled a federal magistrate judge last Friday in a case surrounding a set of controversial human remains that could hold keys to understanding the prehistoric settlement of the Americas. It is a victory of sound science over identity politics, and it also represents a thorough rebuke of the Clinton administration.

The 73-page opinion, written by judge John Jelderks, cast aside a ruling by former secretary of the interior Bruce Babbitt giving the 9,400-year-old skeleton to a coalition of Indian tribes for reburial. This move prompted eight eminent anthropologists to sue, an action that temporarily blocked a reburial that would have destroyed the remains. (Click here to read statement from the plaintiffs and access a link to Jelderks's decision.)

Kennewick Man - so named because he was discovered in a bank by the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash. - is interesting because his bones appear to contain "Caucasoid" traits not found in modern Indian populations. This isn't to say he was white, because nobody knows the color of his skin and few believe that today's racial categories can be usefully projected upon the ancient past. Some scientists think Kennewick Man shares traits with Southeast Asian populations, or perhaps the Ainu, an aboriginal Japanese group. Whatever the truth, his remains deserve careful study so we may increase our knowledge of how the peopling of the New World occurred.

A small group of Indian activists, whose views don't necessarily represent those of Indians generally, had petitioned the government under the auspices of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to have the bones turned over to them. Babbitt agreed, even though the law requires Indians to demonstrate a cultural affiliation with any remains they hope to claim - a fool's errand when the bones in question are as old as Kennewick Man's.

Plaintiff attorney Alan Schneider estimates that the government already has blown $3 million on the case, all to satisfy the imperatives of multicultural politics rather than follow the letter of the law or stand up for rational science. The Clinton administration was unwise to proceed as it did, and now it has been slapped down with a robust ruling from a judge who studied some 20,000 pages of documents.

The Bush administration faces a decision about whether to appeal. It should decline, and let this victory for a common appreciation our country's past remain in place."

(For more information about Kennewick Man and other ancient human remains, visit the Friends of America's Past website.) Copyright 2002, The National Review

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