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September 4, 2002
"Scientists may study Kennewick Man, ruled a federal magistrate judge last
Friday in a case surrounding a set of controversial human remains that could
hold keys to understanding the prehistoric settlement of the Americas. It is
a victory of sound science over identity politics, and it also represents a
thorough rebuke of the Clinton administration.
The 73-page opinion, written by judge John Jelderks, cast aside a ruling by
former secretary of the interior Bruce Babbitt giving the 9,400-year-old
skeleton to a coalition of Indian tribes for reburial. This move prompted
eight eminent anthropologists to sue, an action that temporarily blocked a
reburial that would have destroyed the remains. (Click here to read
statement from the plaintiffs and access a link to Jelderks's decision.)
Kennewick Man - so named because he was discovered in a bank by the Columbia
River near Kennewick, Wash. - is interesting because his bones appear to
contain "Caucasoid" traits not found in modern Indian populations. This
isn't to say he was white, because nobody knows the color of his skin and
few believe that today's racial categories can be usefully projected upon
the ancient past. Some scientists think Kennewick Man shares traits with
Southeast Asian populations, or perhaps the Ainu, an aboriginal Japanese
group. Whatever the truth, his remains deserve careful study so we may
increase our knowledge of how the peopling of the New World occurred.
A small group of Indian activists, whose views don't necessarily represent
those of Indians generally, had petitioned the government under the auspices
of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to
have the bones turned over to them. Babbitt agreed, even though the law
requires Indians to demonstrate a cultural affiliation with any remains they
hope to claim - a fool's errand when the bones in question are as old as
Plaintiff attorney Alan Schneider estimates that the government already has
blown $3 million on the case, all to satisfy the imperatives of
multicultural politics rather than follow the letter of the law or stand up
for rational science. The Clinton administration was unwise to proceed as it
did, and now it has been slapped down with a robust ruling from a judge who
studied some 20,000 pages of documents.
The Bush administration faces a decision about whether to appeal. It should
decline, and let this victory for a common appreciation our country's past
remain in place."
(For more information about Kennewick Man and other ancient human remains,
visit the Friends of America's Past website.)
Copyright 2002, The National Review
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