Saturday, February 07, 2004

Kennewick Man update

The saga of Kennewick Man, the 9,200-year-old Caucasoid (which is not the same as "Caucasian"!) skeleton found in Washington state in 1996, continues. An federal appeals court panel has ruled in favor of reseachers who want to continue to study his remains, now stored at the University of Washington, and against the tribes that wanted to rebury him. Go here and here for more background on the controversy.

He was a tall, strongly built, middle-aged warrior who probably died a violent death. The question "at whose hands?" produces all sorts of fascinating speculation. Those speculations tie into theories of "diffusionism," once discredited as ridiculed as "racist," but now enjoying a bit of a quiet comeback.

Norse-tradition Pagans, led by Stephen McNallen claimed him as a European forebear, part of their argument that Heathenism was the natural spiritual path of today's Euro-Americans. Some anthropologists suggested that he (and other, anomalous, non-Mongoloid skeletons found over the years) suggested that long-ago Polynesians also came to this continent, but were, perhaps, exterminated by the ancestors of those people now designated as Natives.

The Covill, Umatilla, Yakam, and Nez Perce tribes claimed the rights to rebury the skeleton as one of theirs, generally speaking, because he was found where they lived in historical times, from the 18th century onwards, at least. Their attorneys are not happy with the judges' strict reading of the North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, as described here in Native Times.

The tribes' argument does not convince me either. We cannot assume that the population 9,000 years ago was the same as now/. It's possible, but we know that tribes did change homelands--the Kiowa moving from Wyoming into the Southern Plains, to give just one example. NAGPRA was passed to repatriate the remains--thousands of them--of more recent skeletal remains, whose removal from their graves by scientific researchers had embittered many American Indians over the past century. But to claim a 9,200-year-old skeleton as "ours" is just too much of a stretch.

Kirk Mitchell's mystery novel, Ancient Ones, was inspired by the battle over Kennewick Man's remains. For more on the whole genre of "American Indian mystery novels," go here.


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