Skip to comments.Kennewick Man Saga Lives On
Posted on 06/17/2002 2:13:28 PM PDT by blam
Kennewick Man saga lives on
This story was published 6/17/02
By Mike Lee
Herald staff writer
With the fate of the ancient bones found in Kennewick six years ago remaining in legal limbo, Peter Lampson has decided to take action.
It's been a year, and the judge still hasn't issued a public pronouncement about the future of Kennewick Man. But the 17-year-old Lampson isn't waiting for the ruling to make his mark.
In one of a handful of developments related to the once high-profile case, Lampson is erecting a sign in Columbia Park to commemorate Kennewick's world-famous former resident, who was dredged from the Columbia River shallows during the 1996 hydroplane races.
Lampson has approval from Kennewick Parks and Recreation, which ran into trouble with the Army Corps of Engineers the last time a Kennewick Man sign was proposed for the park.
He's also got the materials. And he's got a site: the Audubon nature trail -- more than a half-mile from where Kennewick Man was discovered. Authorities don't want the exact spot marked because someone could vandalize or dig in the area.
He's also got motivation to get the sign up quickly -- something that rarely happens when Kennewick Man is involved.
The 3-foot-by-7-foot sign with photos and a brief written narrative is Lampson's Eagle Scout project, which he needs to finish before he turns 18 in just a few weeks.
With all that impetus, Lampson has a chance to make his Eagle rank before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks issues his opinion in a case that he heard one year ago Wednesday.
Interest remains in case
On June 19, 2001, tribal leaders, scientists and federal lawyers converged on U.S. District Court in Portland to settle the fate of the 9,000-year-old bones, known to American Indians as the Ancient One.
"The case is going to take a significant amount of additional work," Jelderks said at the end of the hearing, adding that he hoped to clear up gray areas so "it's clear what I've done and why I've done it."
The parties and the interested public still are waiting with anticipation for results in a case that promises to set a precedent for how some ancient remains are handled. It also promises to be appealed, no matter the ruling.
"We haven't heard a peep," said Cleone Hawkinson, a Portland anthropologist who founded Friends of America's Past to support scientific access to ancient remains such as Kennewick Man.
"I think it is a good sign that he is doing a thorough and thoughtful job in assessing all of the points of view," Hawkinson said. "Of course, we are curious (but) it's far better to have a legally sound and thoughtful opinion as opposed to a quick one."
Darby Stapp, an anthropologist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, speculates that Jelderks already has made up his mind but is still trying to figure out how to justify a decision in favor of the scientists who sued for the right to study the bones.
"I think most observers have thought that he has been pro-suing-scientist all along," said Stapp, who sides with the tribes on this issue. "I think everyone is just appalled that it's taken this long."
During the legal intermission, the Smithsonian Institution has reiterated its desire to study and store the remains, which currently are housed at the Burke Museum in Seattle.
Last fall, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for science sent a letter to Jelderks once again offering the institution's renowned facilities "in the event that you determine that the remains should be examined in greater detail."
That, of course, is the major question before Jelderks.
The suing scientists argue that Kennewick Man can't be proved to be a lineal descendant of existing tribes and therefore should not be given to them for reburial. Instead, they want the near-complete skeleton available to science as one of the best-preserved links to the early peoples of North America.
The government argues that Northwest Indian tribes have a "shared group identity" that gives them a "reasonable connection" with Kennewick Man.
The government also has argued that remains older than the historically documented arrival of European explorers in the New World are legally Native American.
Jelderks could rule on the case without addressing the definition of Native American, said Alan Schneider, lawyer for the scientists. And, he said, in a position statement about the case, "even if the court does reach the substantive merits of the issue, it could choose to craft its own interpretation of the statutory definition."
Such issues also are faced by the national committee charged with reviewing and implementing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the law that governs remains such as Kennewick Man.
Armand Minthorn from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton is the NAGPRA committee chairman. Minthorn, whose tribe is among those seeking the Ancient One's remains, could not be reached late last week.
NAGPRA issues alive
The NAGPRA committee has taken an active role in shaping the nation's policy on handling ancient remains. Earlier this spring, for instance, the committee ruled on a case from Nevada with similarities to Kennewick Man.
On April 9, the committee contested a decision by the Bureau of Land Management that the 9,000-year-old Spirit Cave Man could not be culturally affiliated with the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe that claims the bones.
Led by Minthorn, six of seven committee members said the government failed to fairly assess the evidence, which they said "indicates a relationship of shared group identity" with the present-day Fallon Paiute-Shoshones.
It's the same kind of modern-day relationship issue presented in the Kennewick case; however, unlike Kennewick Man, the Spirit Cave remains were found with associated cultural items.
Not surprisingly, such NAGPRA issues continue to be a source of controversy.
In the Spirit Cave case, for instance, the committee's official report didn't include the lone dissenting opinion, which raised Hawkinson's fears about the committee's ability to balance the interests of science with tribal demands.
"The biggest concern," she said, "seems to be an attitude or a beginning assumption that everything must be returned to someone and it doesn't really matter if there is a relationship or not."
River collections analyzed
Well outside the controversy over Kennewick Man, Washington State University has embarked on a project that eventually might shed more light on the early peoples who camped along the Columbia River in the present-day Tri-Cities.
Earlier this month, the Pullman school announced it had been awarded a $98,000 grant to catalog artifacts collected from the Columbia River during the dam-building era of the mid-1900s. The money comes from the Payos Kuus Cuukwe Cooperating Group whose members include representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and several Northwest tribes.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, much of the archaeological work in the Columbia Basin was done under emergency salvage conditions as dams were built and flooded Northwest river basins.
Today, it's hard to know what's in the boxes.
The largest collection to be rehabilitated using grant money was excavated from Bateman Island at the north end of Columbia Center Boulevard in the late 1960s. It's held in about 135 storage boxes -- and its contents are largely a mystery.
"That's one of the things that we don't know," said Mary Collins, associate director of the Museum of Anthropology at WSU. "It's one of those sites that has never been thoroughly analyzed or reported."
She anticipates that most of the Bateman Island collection is less than 2,000 years old, and it's not expected to contain human or burial artifacts that would be subject to NAGPRA.
The most important part of the effort likely will be replacing dozens of paper lists with a database of what's in the collections -- work that eventually could shed more light on early life along the great river of the West.
"The project will result in bringing many older collections ... up to modern curation standards and greatly improving access to the collections for research, teaching and traditional cultural uses," said Bill Andrefsky, chairman of WSU's Department of Anthropology.
Do it every year at Scout camp.
Don't know. They were probably still recovering from the Barringer meteorite impact in northern Arizona, about 40,000 years previously. (ahem)
At least we know he's happy.
I wish you Good diggin' Blam. Give us an update on your return.
So Good Night all!
Have a good time with your son.
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