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19 February 2007
Anthropologists back Native American claims

The case of Kennewick Man dragged through the US courts for years before Judge John Jelderks found that he could not be defined Native American under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. A recent case regarding repatriation of even older remains and artifacts from Spirit Cave, Nevada (USA), suggests that the Kennewick Man case should be used as a legal precedent and that the remains of Spirit Cave Man are not Native American.
     Four University of New Mexico anthropologists have written an article where they suggest that a precedent in Paleoindian human remains is 'inappropriate and unnecessary.' They claim that each case is unique and that repatriation determination should be handled case-by-case. Heather Edgar, Maxwell Museum curator and assistant research professor in anthropology, is lead author on the article titled, 'Contextual issues in Paleoindian repatriation: Spirit Cave Man as a case study,' featured in the Feb. 2007 issue Journal of Social Archaeology. Other authors from the Department of Anthropology are Edward Jolie, Joseph Powell and Joe Watkins.
     Spirit Cave Man was found approximately 70 years ago on Bureau of Land Management land that is part of an area government documents refer to as 'traditional tribal lands,' nevertheless the BLM says the remains are 'unaffiliatable.' The Fallon-Paiute-Shoshone filed a lawsuit against the BLM because they consider him their ancestor. Carbon dating determined him to be older than Kennewick Man. DNA testing on both skeletons was inconclusive.
     Edgar said that DNA testing is one determiner for affiliation. "Another way is by what artifacts are found with the remains," Edgar said. Skeletal remains and one point in the hip is all that was found of Kennewick Man. "Many artifacts or 'perishables' were found with Spirit Cave Man because of the arid condition in and around the cave. There were blankets, a burial shroud, bags, moccasins and a breechcloth," Edgar said. The items are now in the Nevada State Museum.
     Edgar is quick to point out that repatriation is moving away from being a polarizing issue. Jolie, who is a member of the Ogalala Lakota, said, "We must balance between respect to the profession and to the past." Edgar said that many tribes are beginning to recognize the value in DNA and other scientific testing in helping them piece together their own history.

Source: UNM Today (14 February 2007)

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