Scientists should be given the chance to study a 9,300-year-old human skeleton before the remains are turned over to an Indian tribe for burial, says Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
Hastings wrote to the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that immediate burial of the skeleton without further study would be “a tragedy.”
“Because the bones are so extremely old and so little is known about this period in the settlement of North America, it seems wise to learn more about the skeleton’s origins before arbitrarily determining custody on the basis of a single unsubstantiated claim of cultural relation,” Hastings wrote to Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard.
Hastings, a member of the congressional subcommittee on Native American and Insular Affairs, wants the corps to maintain custody of the skeleton but allow scientists to have access to the bones.
The remains - possibly the oldest complete skeleton found in the Northwest - were discovered in July by two men wading in the Columbia River in a Kennewick park, which is located in Hastings’ 4th Congressional District.
The corps is holding the remains because the park is corps property.
A forensic anthropologist examined the bones and carbon dating placed their origin to about 7300 B.C.
Corps officials recently published legal notices about their plan to turn the bones over to one of the area’s Indian tribes under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Several scientists, however, have asked the corps to allow the bones to be studied.
They’re intrigued by the anthropologist’s claims that the skeleton had Caucasian characteristics and that it could lend insight into the origin of modern man.
But tribal leaders say further study would be disrespectful, and that age and physical characteristics don’t matter.
They argue the remains should be buried by Indians during a special ceremony.
Dutch Meier, spokesman for the Corps of Engineers’ Walla Walla district, said Monday he had not seen or heard of Hastings’ letter.
The corps is accepting public comments and personal claims of cultural relationship to the remains as part of an ongoing comment period.
“It would really be premature for me or anybody else to speculate what we might do until it’s over,” Meier said.