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21 October 2007
Alaskan tribes to receive prehistoric remains

Human remains estimated to be more than 10,000 years old that were found in a cave in the Tongass National Forest (USA) rightfully belong to the southeast Alaska Tlingit tribes, the US federal government said. Now, 11 years after they were found during a U.S. Forest Service archaeological survey, the remains will be returned to the tribe. It will be the first time a federal agency has handed custody of such ancient finds over to an indigenous group under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, they said.
     "It's a pretty substantial find," said Tongass spokesman Phil Sammon. Vertebrae, ribs, teeth, a mandible and a pelvic bone were among the remains discovered in 1996 during a government archaeological survey for a proposed timber sale on northern Prince of Wales Island. The area is the aboriginal homeland for Tlingit tribes.
Stone tools also were found inside On Your Knees Cave, an extensive limestone network. The Forest Service immediately consulted with area tribes as required by the repatriation law, which mandates that federal agencies and institutions receiving federal money return American Indian remains and cultural items to tribes.
     Scientific analysis determined the remains were 10,300 years old. Through DNA and other testing, researchers identified the remains as belonging to an indigenous man in his early 20s who subsisted primarily on seafood. The stone tools, which are from a different period, are made of obsidian, or volanic glass, not naturally found in the area, suggesting early residents used boats to get around the coastal region.
     The remains are being held by the Forest Service while the tribes plan a ceremonial burial at the discovery site.

Sources: Associated Press, USA Today, The Guardian (20 October 2007)

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