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Office of the Secretary, DOI
For Release: January 31, 2000
Contact: Stephanie Hanna              (O) 202/501-4633


Dr. Francis P. McManamon, Chief Archaeologist for the National Park Service and Chief Consulting Archaeologist for the Department of the Interior, announced today that the Department intends to try to obtain DNA samples for analysis on the ancient skeletal remains known as Kennewick Man.

At the same time, the Department of Justice today requested that the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon, allow an extension of time beyond the March 24, 2000 deadline set by the Court last year in order for the Department of the Interior to consult with the five tribes that have claimed Kennewick Man as their ancestor within the next two weeks on DNA analysis and other cultural affiliation matters and to complete the DNA analysis process.

Kennewick Man, whose age has been radiocarbon dated at more than 9,000 years before present, is a nearly intact set of bones and skeletal fragments that were found in more than 380 pieces in the shallows of the Columbia River in July, 1996 in Kennewick, Washington. The remains were found in an area under the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In March, 1998, the Corps entered into an inter-agency agreement with the Department to assist them with issues related to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA).

On January 13, 2000, Dr. McManamon announced the Department's determination that the remains were Native American for the purposes of NAGPRA. Under the law, Native American is defined as human remains "that resided within the area now encompassed by the United States prior to the historically documented arrival of European explorers, irrespective of when a particular group may have come to reside in this area, and irrespective of whether some or all of these groups were or were not culturally affiliated or biologically related to present-day Indian tribes."

The Department is in the process of determining whether a cultural affiliation exists between the ancient remains and modern Indian tribes. A source of information will be studies prepared by experts in the areas of archaeology, anthropology, ethnography and linguistics. These studies will assist the Department in determining whether the remains are culturally affiliated with the five tribes that have claimed Kennewick Man as their ancestor and have historically resided in the area where the human remains were found.

"We believe that DNA analysis will help determine the biological and genetic racial ancestry of the remains, which has been the subject of controversy in this case from the beginning," McManamon explained. "It will be useful for cultural affiliation purposes if we can obtain accurate mitochondrial DNA analysis. For example, certain mitochondrial DNA 'haplogroups' are found in American Indians that are not found in people of European or African ancestry."

In reaching the preliminary decision, the Department used a report by Dr. Noreen Tuross from the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research, and Dr. Connie Kolman of the National Institutes of Health and the National Research Council, two DNA experts who evaluated what DNA analysis of ancient remains could be reasonably expected to provide.

"The very low levels of human bone collagen, compared with modern bones, that were detected in the bone samples analyzed by radiocarbon labs are an indication that this is going to be a complicated process with no guarantees of a conclusive outcome," McManamon continued. "Our DNA experts expressed concerns that it may be almost impossible to obtain accurate mitochondrial DNA analysis on such ancient bone samples due to 'contamination' of such ancient samples by modern DNA present in the environment."

The expert report by the DNA experts will be available on the National Park Service's Internet site as soon as possible.

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