U.S. Giving Kennewick man to Tribes

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — After four years of dispute, the U.S. Interior Department has decided that Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America, should be given to five American Indian tribes who have claimed him as an ancestor.

The question was whether the 9,000-year-old bones should be turned over to the tribes in the Pacific Northwest or to scientists for research.

In a statement Monday, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said that two years of study by his department have persuaded him that the bones should be returned to the tribes.

However, the ultimate fate of the bones may have to be decided in court.

Four years ago, eight prominent anthropologists, one from the Smithsonian Institution, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Portland for the right to study the bones. Their lawsuit was put on hold while the Interior Department looked into the five tribes' claims on the bones.

Now that Babbitt has issued his determination, the scientists say they will ask the judge to let their lawsuit go forward.

Research on the bones could help rewrite previously held theories about where the original Americans came from.

The skeleton's skull has features that are dissimilar to those of American Indians. Professors who studied the bones for the Interior Department have said Kennewick Man appears to be most strongly connected to the people of Polynesia and southern Asia.

The find has helped force researchers to consider the possibility that the continents' earliest arrivals came not by a land bridge between Russia and Alaska — a long-held theory — but by boat or some other route.