Five years ago this July, an ancient skeleton was found on the banks of the Columbia River during a hydroplane race near Kennewick, Washington. When the bones turned out to be a major archaeological find, the remains of a 9,000 year-old prehistoric man, a political, legal, cultural, and racial battle ensued. Just who was Kennewick Man, who owned his bones, and what should be done with them?
The Indians and Federal government have argued that the law — specifically, the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act — gives local tribes, including the Umatilla, Colville, Yakama, and Nez Perce, the right to have the bones, and the right to dispose of them in any way they choose.
The Indians have dubbed Kennewick Man “the Ancient One” and claim the right to rebury him according to their traditional practices with or without further study. But a group of prominent scientists has disagreed, choosing instead to challenge the law in Federal court, where arguments are being heard this week and a ruling is expected later this summer.