|30 January 2000
The Kennewick Man is 9,000 years old
A bone sample taken from Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in North America, indicates the skeleton is about 9,000 years old, likely meaning it will be legally classified as Native American, according to reports.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of the Interior have announced the results of additional radiocarbon dating of Kennewick Man: the original 1996 radiocarbon date of 8410 ± 60 years has been corroborated by two samples which registered radiocarbon dates of 8130 40 and 8410 ± 40 years. Two additional samples, however, have registered radiocarbon dates of 6940 ± 30 and 5750 ± 100 years. Scientists noted that all of the samples dated contained very small amounts of carbon and collagen, making radiocarbon dating difficult.
The ancestry of Kennewick Man has been in dispute ever since the collection of 350 bones was discovered in the shallows of the Columbia River in 1996. The government classification is a key part of an ongoing dispute over the custody of the skeleton.
The next step in the complex struggle between Native American tribes who want to bury the bones and the scientists who want to study them is finding out whether the ancient skeleton is culturally affiliated with modern tribes. A coalition of five Northwest Indian tribes, which claims Kennewick Man as an ancestor and seeks the return of the bones for reburial, objected to the tests as a desecration, the process having required the destruction of a small amount of bone.
Eight prominent anthropologists have sued for the right to study the bones, and a federal judge in Portland, Oregon, has given the government until March 24 to decide if it will give permission for such access. The anthropologists have been pressing in court for DNA testing as the most effective means of determining Kennewick Man's origins.
Sources: Archaeology Institute of America, Associated Press (January 13, 2000)
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