After my post the other day about the update to NAGPRA providing for the disposition of culturally unidentifiable remains, I received a message from a reader indicating his position that the Kennewick Man would not be affected by the changes in legislation because the Ninth Circuit held he was not Native American. Really?
Yes, really. It was no easy feat to pull the original decision, Bonnichsen et al. v. United States et al., but I managed to find it here. And sure enough, I think our humble reader is correct – under the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Kennewick Man would not be impacted by the recent changes to NAGPRA, because he’s not Native American. Or, more precisely, its impossible to tell whether he’s Native American. Apparently, for remains older than 5,000 years, scientists can’t tell whether the remains are Native American or anything else due to ambiguities in bone structure among other things. The whole lack of any sort of historical record anywhere in the world for that time period (9,000 years ago) is also a factor.
So, the Kennewick Man is going to remain (ahem) at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, regardless of the changes in NAGPRA pertaining to culturally unidentifiable remains.
*Slap of Gavel*
[UPDATE 01/05/11: Check out the new article: Controversy and Conflict: NAGPRA and the Role of Biological Anthropology in Determining Cultural Affiliation]