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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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February 04, 2004

A gift for all of us

Kennewick Man is free!! Or soon ought to be, thanks to an unequivocal opinion today by the Ninth Circuit of Appeals.

Eight years after the 9,200-year-old remains were found in Columbia River shallows in their namesake city, the appeals court sided with prominent scientists who sued the U.S. government for the right to study the bones.

The Interior Department had intended to give them to Native American tribes who claimed the remains as that of an ancestor under a federal law that basically applies to all remains that date to the days before Columbus. The law ignores the earlier Viking landings, by the way, and we know about those..

While the Native American claims are understandable, their claim to these bones is particularly tenuous because of their exceptional age and their appearance. The remains' features more closely resemble modern Polynesian people or the Ainu of Japan, which, for those studying the peopling of the Americas, suggests a long-sought-after link to Asia.

The appeals court used that fact in deciding modern American tribes could not reasonably claim the remains: "...because Kennewick Man's remains are so old and the information about his era is so limited, the record does not permit the (Interior) Secretary to conclude reasonably that Kennewick Man shares special and significant genetic or cultural features with presently existing indigenous tribes, people or cultures."

No doubt the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court before the scientists finally get a chance to mine the knowledge that rests with Kennewick Man's remains now stored at Seattle's Burke Museum. (What's another couple of years compared to nine millenia?) But the scientists have prevailed unequivocally at the U.S. District Court level and the appeals level.

Kennewick Man belongs to all of us, not just to Native American tribes.

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Posted by Kate Riley at February 4, 2004 03:45 PM



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