The Kennewick Man was first discovered in 1996 near the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington. The U.S. Army Corps handled the Kennewick Man's bones because they were found on federal land.
The scientific community wanted to analyze the bones but Native American tribes insisted that the remains should be buried immediately. This led to years of legal battle and in 2004, the scientists won and proceeded with the analysis.
A recent report confirmed that Kennewick Man was, indeed, Native American. This 9,000-year-old skeleton is among the oldest and most complete set discovered in North America.
And now, the decades-long battle between science and ancient beliefs won in the favor of the native tribes. The Kennewick Man will finally be given a Native American burial.
"Obviously we are hearing an acknowledgment from the Corps of what we have been saying for 20 years. Now we want to collectively do what is right, and bring our relative back for reburial," said JoDe Goudy, the chairman of the Yakama Nation.
Five Native American tribes claimed connections to the Kennewick Man, namely Yakama, Wanapum, Umatilla, Colville and Nez Perce tribes. After scientists finally confirmed the origins of the Kennewick Man, these tribes will work together to give their "relative" a proper tribal burial.
In some ancient cities like Athens, it is illegal to mess with discovered human remains. In the modern world, there are many stories about archeological discoveries that are seen as "grave robbing."
Believers argue that these ancient people have been buried by loved ones with care and that it is a crime to unearth them thousands of years later, reuse them into scientific experiments and put them on displays in museums.
This strong stance is often rooted in religious beliefs. Observations of indecency often drive the outrage. There is also much discomfort in unearthing an ancient human being from his or her resting place just to satisfy scientific curiosities.
There are some bioarchaeologists who believe that ancient human remains should not be returned to the ground. Some also believe that destroying the discovered ancient human remains is the "forensic equivalent of book burning."
The slow repatriation of many ancestors' remains of Native American tribes is said to be rooted in these views. Despite the evidence of federal laws for the return of ancestral remains, many ancient bones are still locked up in store rooms.
"We've come to a point in American society that we recognize we do science for people. Their concerns sometimes have to come first, even if it's a matter of sacrifice from the scientific community's side," said Indiana University bioarchaeologist Larry Zimmerman, an advocate for the protection of Native American remains.
Photo: Mike Steele | Flickr