(Washington, D.C.) – Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has introduced legislation that would return the prehistoric human remains of the nearly complete male skeleton known as Kennewick Man or the Ancient One to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes. Experts believe the remains, discovered in 1996 on federal land near the Columbia River, are at least 8,400 years old, making Kennewick Man one of the oldest and most complete skeletons found in North America. In June of this year, new genetic evidence determined the remains are closer to modern Native American than any other population worldwide.
S. 1979, the Bring the Ancient One Home Act of 2015, would transfer the remains from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, which has existing, effective, and efficient regulations in place to carry out repatriation of remains, including the Kennewick Man, to tribes. Several area tribes have joined together in calling for the Kennewick Man’s return to his descendants.
“After nearly two decades of legal wrangling and scientific studying, it’s well past time to return these prehistoric remains to their rightful place,” Senator Murray said. “This is simply the right thing to do, and the sooner we begin the process of repatriation, the sooner we can ensure we are honoring the wishes of the Kennewick Man’s descendants.”
For years, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids have said the Kennewick Man is Native American. These Native American tribes requested the remains be returned under the federal law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). While the Department of the Interior and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that the Kennewick Man was Native American and had cultural affiliations with Columbia Basin tribes and sought to repatriate the Kennewick Man through NAGPRA, a federal court ruled in 2004 in favor of a group of scientists who wanted to continue studying the skeleton. As a result, the Kennewick Man remains within the federal archeological collection under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and since 1998 has been stored at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, Washington.
On June 18, 2015, Dr. Eske Willerslev, Director of GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, released new findings based on additional scientific studies on previously sampled remains from the Kennewick Man. Dr. Willerslev’s DNA testing and analysis found that the Kennewick Man remains are Native American and that he has a direct link to Columbia Basin tribes.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, National Congress of American Indians, Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and the State of Washington support returning the Kennewick Man to his Native American descendants, which the Bring the Ancient One Home Act would achieve.