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Office of the Secretary, DOI
For Release: July 1, 1999
Contact: Stephanie Hanna (O)


The Department of the Interior today recommended additional testing of the Kennewick Man skeletal remains before making a final determination about whether the remains are Native American for the purposes of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation of the Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). The Department's recommendation came in a quarterly status report filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon.

"The caliber of the reports we received from the scientific team was uniformly excellent," Dr. Francis P. McManamon, Chief Consulting Archaeologist for the Department of the Interior said. "After careful examination of the reports we can draw a number of significant conclusions, but the analysis was unable to produce an accurate chronological date for the skeletal remains." The chronological context is particularly significant for the Kennewick remains, which were found in more than 350 fragments scattered and submerged in the Columbia River. The Department of the Interior has interpreted the definition of Native American contained in NAGPRA as "all tribes, peoples, and cultures that were residents of the lands comprising the United States prior to historically documented European exploration."

"From the scientific reports, we now can conclude that these remains are all bones from a single individual, and that this individual was a man 45-55 years old at the time of death," McManamon continued. "The lithic point completely imbedded in his pelvis closely resembles a Cascade point used historically by Indian peoples of the Columbia Basin and is about 3 inches long. It is clear that he suffered this wound at an earlier point in his life and that it was not a cause of death. Although the lithic point appears similar to ones used thousands of years ago, such points were still in use after the arrival of Europeans so the point is not a strong indicator of chronological age."

Dr. Rose and Dr. Powell of the scientific team believe, based upon the condition of the remains, that Kennewick Man was intentionally buried shortly after his death. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to extract organic material from sediment adhering to the bone or inside the cranium that could provide an accurate date, although most of the sediment sampled was consistent with those in the embankment near the area of river where the remains were first discovered. "The inconclusiveness of the chronological evidence explains our decision that additional testing is needed," McManamon said.

Prior to proceeding with additional testing that would involve destruction of small amounts of bone, the Department will consult with representatives of five Columbia Basin tribes that have previously claimed Kennewick Man as their ancestor.

The reports of the scientific expert team will become available after the time a chronological determination is made whether the remains are Native American for the purpose of NAGPRA. If Kennewick Man is determined to be Native American under NAGPRA, the Department of the Interior will establish an investigation protocol designed to answer a second and more complex question of whether the remains are culturally affiliated with any modern day Indian tribe or tribes to which they might ultimately be returned. To do this, a new protocol will govern the process of considering archaeological information, traditional, oral and documented histories of Columbia Basin tribes, geographical, biological and other relevant information.

"This has been a long and sometimes controversial process but I believe we are headed in the right direction," Dr. McManamon said, "There are those who will want more or different tests and there are those who want no further tests or examination at all. We are proceeding as deliberately and respectfully as we can and that takes time, particularly given the unusual and disturbed archaeological context where this discovery was made. I believe that we can show that NAGPRA is a reasonable law, flexible enough to adapt to unique situations when necessary and to satisfy the diverse perspectives of the American people."

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