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24 May 2011
Fight to study rare skeletons discovered in California

Two of the oldest known skeletons in the Americas - uncovered in 1976 on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean during construction at the home of a University of California, San Diego (USA) chancellor, and dated between 9,000 and 9,600 years old - may be among the most valuable for genetic analysis in the continental United States.
     Under federal law, bones are returned to a tribe that can prove 'cultural affiliation' through artefacts or other analyses. But last year, federal officials issued new rules that make it easier to return bones and funerary objects that are not culturally affiliated to tribes. Scientists and museums have been considering a legal challenge to the new rule, fearing the loss of many valuable specimens. The La Jolla skeletons could end up as the case by which that rule is challenged. At nearly 10,000 years old, the skeletons in question are so ancient that they are not culturally linked to any tribe.
     The two people (a man and a woman) had consumed seafood year-round rather than seasonally, and were buried together. The bones are in such good condition that it is likely scientists could extract DNA from them. Archaeologist Daniel Sandweiss is reported as suggesting that DNA analysis of Paleo-indian skeletal remains along the west coast of the U.S.A. will help us learn more about how people first spread throughout the American continents.

Edited from Wired Science, and "Powered By Osteons" (20 May 2011)

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