Kennewick Man freed for research

Some years back, a near complete skeleton emerged from a terrace on the Columbia River, in the north-western USA, near to Kennewick.  Preliminary examination suggested that the skull had distinct European features, and some thought that these were the remains of some early pioneer.  Kennewick Man attracted considerable attention when the terrace was dated at 9300 years, because the individual would then have been among the earliest known colonizers of the Americas.  Five local tribes of  Native Americans laid claim to the bones under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, considering him to be an ancestor.  The bones were taken into custody, thereby halting further research.  Several academics saw this in a malevolent light, since if it was proven that the skeleton was indeed of European origin instead of Asian that would undermine a major plank in Native Americans’ claims for primary occupation of land; the central issue in a vast raft of legislation over ownership of mineral reserves.  Pressure for release of the bones for research has built over the last two years, finally to overcome concerted opposition that wished to re-bury the bones with due resepct.  The magistrate who judged the case found the original decision for sequestration “arbitrary and capricious”, and so investigations can resume.  Quite possibly DNA will be preserved, and that could set the cat among the pigeons in Native American circles.  However, some experts who had a quick look at the skull suggested that it might well be of an Ainu, one of the earliest inhabitants of the Japanese islands, who bear passing resemblance to Caucasian people..

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