Message #67: From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG To: "'Matthias Giessler'" Subject: Leigh Jenkins Quoted [repatriating human remains] Date: Tue, 04 Feb 97 11:22:00 MST Encoding: 234 TEXT [Brought to you under the fair use doctrine.... -- SASIG Ed. ] http://www2.phillynews.com:80/inquirer/97/Feb/03/health_and_science/BONE03.htm The Inquirer Monday February 3, 1997 Skeletal remains discovered in Washington State are more than age-old. They're millennia-old. Now they're a center of controversy under a federal law that requires the repatriation of Native American remains. By Ellen O'Brien INQUIRER STAFF WRITER One afternoon in the dog days of last summer, a college kid out watching a race on the Columbia River near Kennewick in Benton County, Wash., was idly scrubbing the toe of his shoe into the mud on the riverbank -- when he hit bone. It was a skull. Because of its particular shape, and because the skeleton attached to it showed an old, healed-over wound in its pelvic bone, officials at first thought they were looking at the remains of a white man who had died maybe 100 years earlier. But the coroner turned the bones over to James Chatters, an independent anthropologist, for more study. Chatters had them carbon-dated. What he found amazed him. They are 9,300 years old. The pelvic wound was caused by a stone spear point that is still imbedded in the bone. And although the skeleton was buried for millennia -- in a land where Europeans came staking claims only within the last 400 years -- the skull and bones show many physical characteristics of a 5-foot-10-inch, 50-year-old white man. Where did he come from? Before scientists can begin to settle that question -- before they can even hope to study the bones further -- they must first settle a more immediate issue. Who has the right to decide what happens to these ancient bones? The Columbia River discovery is one of the most dramatic -- and controversial -- illustrations of a movement, backed by a federal law, that has been percolating in every major anthropological museum, as well as on every major American Indian reservation, in the nation. Repatriation. For 150 years, American Indians saw their tribal burials opened by scientifically inclined strangers, and watched anthropologists abscond with their religious artifacts, until they ``felt alienated, . . . felt it was other people talking `about' their culture,'' said Pam Jardine, assistant director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. ``They felt excluded.'' Now, under federal laws, American Indians have an opportunity to get back, for reburial, tens of thousands of sets of human bones dug up from their graves, most often as specimens, but sometimes as mere curiosities. The repatriation mandate also extends over thousands of objects found in those graves, thousands of sacred or ritual objects that were obtained from tribes for major museum collections, and the cultural ``patrimony,'' or objects of community legacies that should never have left the tribes. But where does Kennewick Man, as the human being buried on the Columbia riverbank has come to be called, fit into this mix? He is among a very small -- but hauntingly specific -- category of human remains with at least some Caucasoid traits that date back thousands of years in the Americas. ``He's got a narrow face and a long, narrow braincase, and the cheekbones aren't really broad,'' Chatters said. By contrast, he said, American Indian cheekbones ``are tremendously wide. They have wide, round faces and rounded skulls.'' Another skeleton with some Caucasoid features, found in the Spirit Cave in Nevada and held by the state museum there, is estimated by scientists to be 100 years older than Kennewick Man; scientists there are also trying to obtain the right to conduct extensive studies on it. ``What would be really, really, absolutely important -- almost critically essential -- would be to be able to compare Kennewick Man and the Spirit Cave mummy,'' said Robson Bonnichsen, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans, at Oregon State University. ``In the past, archaeologists have desecrated Indian burial sites in the name of `science,' '' said Armand Minthorn, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Nations, which has demanded the Kennewick Man skeleton from the federal government. ``They failed to recognize what those remains mean to us as Indian people,'' Minthorn said. ``Ancestral remains . . . are very sacred -- just as is a Bible to the Christian belief.'' The controversy, of course, is about science: Should something as rare as Kennewick Man be returned to Earth with only four days' study? Said Chatters: ``Here's probably the most exciting discovery I've ever seen, . . . and we might not have an opportunity to learn from it.'' Right now the question over who controls Kennewick Man's destiny is being played out in Federal District Court in Portland, Ore. A hearing is scheduled for this morning, when lawyers for the Umatillas will ask the court to dismiss an attempt by a group of scientists and others to block the nations' plan to bury the bones permanently -- and secretly -- on their reservation across the river from where they were found. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, bones found on federal land must be returned to the Indian group to which they once belonged. The Kennewick bones were found on land overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But Alan Schneider, attorney for the scientists, contends: ``The core question is, who is this individual, and what population group was he a part of? To determine that, scientists have to study the skeleton.'' Whether the Umatillas win or lose this case, the fact that the issue has gone to federal court is an indication of the power that American Indians have been gaining over their lives -- and their legacies -- in the last decade. But repatriation itself is moving slowly. It has its own difficulties. Janet Monge had an old cigar box in front of her on the table. The words Old Virginia and Cheroots were painted across it, and it showed signs of disintegration. ``This is something from storage,'' she said. Monge is keeper of physical anthropology at the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. The box was from the collection of C.B. Moore -- a white man who was once famous, or notorious, for roaming through the Southeastern United States in search of American Indian burials. On the box's top, a piece of paper said: Human jaws from Mounds near St. John R., Florida. Inside, pieces of bone and teeth were folded into daubs of graying cotton. ``See. There's 21 individuals in there. We can't even pick one of those up without putting preservatives on it,'' Monge said, calculating it would take a month to inventory the remains and determine which tribe should be notified of their existence. Over the years, the Penn museum has housed the remains of about 1,700 individual American Indians and about 200,000 artifacts -- not all of which would be deemed sacred objects. About 300 sets of bones have gone back. Between 20 and 40 sets went to the Chugach Alaska Corp. in 1993, in a repatriation that involved both prehistoric and historic ancestors of eight Eskimo groups, and funerary objects that included stone implements, bone tools, native shell and glass beads. In a separate repatriation, the museum returned a child's mummy to a native Hawaiian group in 1991. The remains had been found in a cave, and like many of the museum's remains, they had been ``on loan'' since the 1930s from the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science. In fact, one of the complicating factors for Monge's work is the traveling history of the material. The bones that Penn now finds itself obligated to inventory have been lent and borrowed for decades among four institutions -- the Penn museum, the science academy, the Smithsonian, and Philadelphia's Wistar Institute. According to museum assistant director Jardine, about 90 percent of the skeletal material ``is so ancient it can't be determined'' to which contemporary Indian group it belongs. Or the documentation for the material is dauntingly incomplete. In some cases, the records are as vague as the casual note from Moore on the box of Florida bones, and Monge said she has hundreds of such boxes. For still other remains, the records have been lost over the years. Documenting the bones -- tracing them back to their true group of origin -- is a task for a scholarly Hercules. The federal law required all museums to complete inventories -- and make them available to American Indian groups -- by the end of 1995. Most of the large museums obtained three-year extensions. Originally, Penn asked for only a year, but has since applied for a second extension. ``If we rushed it, we could have sent in something,'' Jardine said. ``But that's not what we were supposed to do.'' Jardine believes the museum will have its inventories, for both human remains and artifacts, completed within the next two years. When the remains become available, where should they go? The answer will be different from tribe to tribe, but it rarely is an easy answer. For the Hopi, for example, the issue of repatriating human remains is ``really traumatic and emotional,'' said Leigh Jenkins, director of the tribe's historic-preservation office in Arizona. ``We don't have a reburial ceremony,'' Jenkins said. ``. . . We have to spend a lot of time weighing everything, including, I guess, the spiritual responsibilities that we're now having to assume for someone else -- meaning those people who dug them up in the first place. . . . ``In Hopi, your final burial ground is hallowed ground,'' he said. ``It's both your physical home and spiritual home, and that can't be compromised.'' Then there is the further issue of how best to care for repatriated artifacts: Jenkins says that for the Hopi alone it involves ``hundreds of thousands of objects.'' And beyond those questions towers the philosophical issue of how much right science has over human beliefs. Who should have control over America's most ancient human remains -- such as the bones of Kennewick man? Said Oregon State's Bonnichsen: ``We can't tell how modern populations developed, and the ways in which they did, unless we can get a handle on what they were like 10,000 years ago.'' And from the other side, the Umtillas' Minthorn: ``Our belief is that we've always been here, and that we never crossed a land bridge [ from Asia ] . And that when time began, we as Indian people were part of that.'' ``We . . . have a religion and have a traditional lifestyle that ties us to this land that we are living on,'' Minthorn said. ``And because of that, when a body goes into the ground, that's where it's to stay, until the end of time.''