December 15, 1997 in Nation/World

Scientists Revisit Site Where Kennewick Man Found

Associated Press

Scientists have begun taking dirt samples from the Columbia River bank where prehistoric bones were found more than two years ago.

The sampling that began Saturday at Columbia Park could prove critical in determining the origin and fate of the remains, dubbed Kennewick Man and estimated to be 9,200 years old on the basis of preliminary carbon dating.

The goal is to find organic material, volcanic ash or mineral deposits that could indicate when the remains reached the site, whether they were deliberately buried or washed downstream and why they were so well-preserved.

Scientists believe the bones, found by two college students more than two years ago, comprise one of the oldest near-complete human skeletons found in North America.

Five Indian tribes, citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, have sought the remains for burial.

Eight prominent scientists have sued for the right to study the bones, saying the remains are too old to be linked to modern Indians without more study.

The case remains pending in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Tests done before the legal dispute arose indicate the skeleton may be unrelated to the ancestors of present-day Indians in the region, anthropologists said.

About 15 archaeologists combed the site Saturday, the start of what they expect to be about a week of work.

The project is being coordinated by four top scientists from the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Miss., and includes experts chosen by Washington State University anthropologist Gary Huckleberry, who proposed the study in August, and by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

The parties involved in the dig also are negotiating another phase of the study that could include digging a trench in the park to reveal strata, layers of rock and sediment that also could help date the bones.

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