Kennewick Man may not be re-interred

Seven and a half years after the discovery of a 9300-year old human skeleton in Columbia River alluvium in Washington state, USA, researchers may finally be able to study the remains.  So-called Kennewick Man caused a storm when first unearthed, for his skull was very different from that of any other early American colonist.  Indeed, partial studies suggested close resemblance to Europeans.  Four Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest claimed the skeleton for reburial, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.  The move was not entirely connected with respect for sacred rites.  Evidence that the area might have been first colonised by people who were not related to the tribes living there just before European occupation in the 19th century could undermine claims for mineral and other land rights by native people.  On 4 February 2004 a San Francisco court ruled that the remains were so different from any North American indigenous people, that the claimants had no rights over them.  Studies of a skull cast of Kennewick Man since he was placed under lock and key now suggest a possible origin from Asian hunter-gatherers similar to the Ainu people of modern Japan.  However, modern techniques of genetic analysis and isotopic studies of tooth enamel that could settle the issue of origin and relatedness require the original material.  Interestingly, a spear point is lodged in the pelvis, so, like the famous Ice Man of the Italian-Austrian Alps, Kennewick Man may have been the victim of either a deadly dispute or ritual killing.

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