Kennewick Man Reburied on Native American Terms

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February 26, 2017

After a 21-year-old struggle over burial rights, Kennewick Man is finally at peace.

The skeleton is one of the most complete skeletons yet found that dates from ancient times. Tests on the bones, including radiocarbon, have shown an age of between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago.

The skeleton, discovered near Kennewick, Wash., in 1996, had been the focus of an at times intense disagreement between local Native American tribes and (non-Native American) scientists. The archaeologists who discovered the skeleton, together with the Smithsonian Institution, insisted that the bones were of Polynesian or Southeast Asian origin, and an early court case resulted in a judge's finding that no clear indication of origin could be made.

In the meantime, scientists conducted extensive tests on the bones, leading to hypotheses about not just the man's origin but his muscle structure, habits, and even his diet.

The technology to identify the bones definitively as being of Native American origin did not exist until a few years ago. A 2016 Army Corps of Engineers study confirmed the DNA as proof of Native American ancestry first suggested in a Nature study from 2015, and then the mechanics of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act guidelines came into play.

Representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Collville Reservation, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Wanapum, and Yakama Nation accepted the bones and belonging of Kennewick Man and then buried "the Ancient One," as he came to be called, somewhere near the Columbia River.

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