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Office of the Secretary, DOI
For Release: September 8, 1999
Contact: Stephanie Hanna (O)


The Department of the Interior today is overseeing the extraction of two small pieces of bone from the set of human skeletal remains known as Kennewick Man. The bones are currently stored in a secure area at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington. Two approximately 10 gram samples, taken from different bones, will be divided in half and sent to laboratories for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry testing. The testing is likely to result in independent radiocarbon dates that can be compared and used to indicate the exact the chronological age of the human remains. The testing will take place over the next six weeks.

Dr Francis P. McManamon, Chief Archaeologist for the Department of the Interior, announced in July that radiocarbon dating, which involves the destruction of small amounts of bone, would be necessary in order to answer the question of whether Kennewick Man is to be considered Native American for the purposes to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA).

If the remains are found to be older than the earliest documented arrival of Europeans in the Pacific Northwest they will be considered Native American for the purposes of NAGPRA. An announcement on whether or not Kennewick Man is to be considered Native American is likely to be made in November.

The bone samples are being hand carried to several Carbon 14 (C14) laboratories including: Beta Analytical in Miami, Florida; National Science Foundation - Arizona Accelerated Mass Spectrometry Facility in Tucson, Arizona; and to the Radiocarbon Laboratory at the University of California, Riverside, California. By prior agreement, any bone residue remaining from the testing procedures will be returned to the collection at the Burke Museum.

The bone extraction procedures are being carried out by a team of experts from the Department of the Interior, the Corps of Engineers and independent scientists. Assisting Dr. McManamon are Dr Michael K. Trimble, Chief Curator for the Army Corps of Engineers; Dr Vicki Cassman, conservator for the University of Nevada - Las Vegas, who served as conservator for the scientific team during initial examinations at the Burke in February; and Kathy Taylor, a local forensic anthropologist.

If Kennewick Man is determined to be Native American under NAGPRA, the Department of the Interior will begin the process of answering a second and more complex question of whether Kennewick Man is culturally affiliated or can be determined to have a "shared group identity" with any modern day Indian tribe or tribes. The Department will prepare a protocol that would include the collection and analysis of relevant archaeological, geographical, cultural and biological data from the region as well as documented history and oral traditions of the five tribes that are present day and historic inhabitants of the area around the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

"The chronological date of these remains is fundamental to all future actions the Department will take," Dr McManamon said. "We now have excellent data from the skeletal measurements and the analysis done on Kennewick Man by the scientific team, as well as on the sediments and the lithic object encased in his hip. In this case, however, there was no burial site since the more than 380 bones were found underwater in the Columbia River. This is an unusual situation and requires thorough, deliberate and careful study."

"We recognize and sincerely regret that destruction of any amount of bone is offensive to some religious and traditional tribal beliefs," McManamon continued. "However, to reasonably answer the question of whether Kennewick Man is Native American for the purposes of NAGPRA, and to undertake any further studies if he is, it is vitally important to know whether these bones are 80 years old or 800 years old or 8,000 years old."

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