- The legal battle over the ancient bones of Kennewick
Man has been won by the scientists, but they now face a new wrangle over
access to the remains.
- The 9,300-year-old skeleton is among the most complete
specimens of its period known from the Americas.
- Four Native American tribes that sought to re-bury the
bones have announced they will not be taking their fight to the US Supreme
- But they still regard the skeleton as an ancestor and
call it "ancient one".
- The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Colville tribes filed
a claim to the skeleton shortly after it was unearthed on 31 July, 1996,
on a wide bank of the Columbia river at Kennewick in Washington State.
- However, they were quickly challenged by scientists who
said the skeleton could provide valuable information about the early settling
of the Americas.
- In February, the coalition of tribes lost their legal
fight in the federal courts to scientists who want to study the remains.
- The San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
ruled that it was impossible to establish a relationship between the Indian
tribes and "Kennewick Man".
- An attempt to have the decision reviewed by a panel of
judges was also rejected.
- The defendants had the option to continue the fight in
the US Supreme Court. But neither the tribes nor the US Justice Department
filed an appeal to America's highest court by the Monday deadline.
- However, legal representatives for the scientists are
still locked in discussions with the US Justice Department over what the
researchers are allowed to do with the bones.
- 'Condition concern'
- Attorney for the scientists Alan L Schneider told BBC
News Online: "We feel that they are improperly interjecting themselves
into the purpose for which we can study the skeleton and the types of studies
that would be appropriate to achieve the objectives."
- The government has said that it would not permit any
chemical or invasive testing on the bones. This would scupper any further
attempts to obtain DNA samples from Kennewick Man.
- The discussions are also likely to cover the question
of how access to the remains is controlled.
- "They're saying you have to restrict your studies
and only a couple of people can go in and look at it and that sort of thing,"
Professor Robson Bonnichsen, one of the lead scientists, told BBC News
- The plaintiffs are also concerned by suggestions the
bones may have deteriorated in the eight years since they was pulled from
- "The government has now come up with all kinds of
concerns - that the skeleton is in such poor condition. The condition's
changed under their watch because everyone said it was in great condition
when it came in," explained Professor Bonnichsen.
- "We know that the number of pieces of skeleton have
grown since they've been there lying in the cabinet," he added.
- Three tribes decided not to appeal the case before the
weekend. The Umatilla held out to the deadline, but said in a statement
on Monday that it would not proceed with the case any further.
- "The decision was based on the availability of financial
resources, the uncertainty of whether the Supreme Court would even hear
the case, and the risk that an unfavourable Court decision could become
law," the statement read.
- It added that the Umatilla's board of trustees would
begin working with other Native American tribes on a strategy to amend
the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Nagpra), the
law enacted in 1990 to protect tribal burials.
- "Nagpra needs to be strengthened so that it fulfils
Congress' original intent, which was to protect tribal burials and return
sacred items to the tribes," said Armand Minthorn, Umatilla board
of trustees member.
- The bones of Kennewick Man are currently held at the
Burke Museum in Seattle.
- © BBC MMIV http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3909421.stm