BY DR. FRANCIS McMANAMON, CHIEF ARCHAEOLOGIST OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE
The safe arrival of the skeletal remains found in Kennewick at the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture in Seattle today opens a new chapter in resolving the mystery of these bones' age and ancestry.
There are many unanswered questions. As the federal agency responsible for implementing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA), the Department of the Interior believes that the Act provides both the legal foundation and the flexibility to proceed and find scientific answers.
Following a necessary period of acclimatizing the skeletal remains to changes in temperature and humidity at their new location, we will undertake a series of scientific investigations. The first phase will involve analysis and measurements of the remains that do not require destruction of any bone fragments.
There is much to learn from conducting this analysis, and the Department of the Interior (DOI), in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Justice, has developed a scientific protocol for these examinations. This protocol has been reviewed by two acknowledged experts in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, as well as in consultations with Tribal representatives. Once any final recommendations have been incorporated in the examination protocol, DOI will identify experts who can best perform the scientific tasks ahead. After the "non-destructive" work is completed and the data thoroughly analyzed, DOI will make a determination whether the data is sufficient to conclude definitively that the remains are considered Native American under NAGPRA. If not, DOI will determine what additional testing might be necessary, including DNA sampling or radiocarbon dating, to answer this question.
Clearly, there will be those who believe that there should be even more tests performed, and there will be those who believe that only they have the expertise to perform them. There are others who believe that the remains should be reburied undisturbed and untested.
We hope in the events of the next several months to seek and to hold a middle ground, where the compelling questions surrounding these remains can be answered scientifically and conclusively while being sensitive to those who want the remains treated with respect, dignity and honor.
Francis P. McManamon serves as Chief Archaeologist of the National Park Service and Departmental Consulting Archaeologist of the Department of the Interior.