A group of anthropologists who have sued to get access to a 9,300-year-old skeleton now are opposing a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to cover up the Columbia River shoreline where the bones were discovered.
In a report prepared for U.S. District Court in Portland, attorneys for eight prominent anthropologists say the corps’ project will prevent a thorough scientific study of the area in Kennewick.
Corps officials say they want to cover about 250 feet of shoreline in order to keep it from eroding.
“Federal law requires that an archaeological site be protected,” said Nola Conway, a spokeswoman for the corps’ Walla Walla office.
The scientists complain in the report that the corps did not notify them of the project until Dec. 26, nine days after bids were to have been received for the work.
Conway said the contract, which is being handled by the Small Business Administration, could be awarded as early as next week.
The report is the scientists’ second case report filed with U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks, who asked in June that the parties update him every three months on progress made in resolving the case. The corps plans to file its report Monday.
A small religious group that is suing for access to the skeleton, known as Kennewick Man, also has complained about the corps’ plan in another report prepared for the court.
An attorney for the Asatru Folk Assembly said he was notified by the corps on Dec. 26 about the work, and was given three days to respond. He said that was not enough time to provide an informed response.
In its report, church members say they would like to erect a monument at the discovery site for Kennewick Man.
The church, based in Nevada City, Calif., practices what it calls a pre-Christian European tribal religion and reveres sky and Earth deities of ancient Europe. The Asatru want a study done to determine whether the remains are those of a European who migrated to North America.
The anthropologists’ complaint comes two weeks after a weeklong geological study at the site by research teams from the corps, Washington State University and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
The anthropologists complain in their report that “unreasonable restrictions” were placed on Gary Huckleberry, an assistant anthropology professor at Washington State University, and his research team. Among other work he had asked to do, Huckleberry wanted to dig a 6-foot-deep, 50- to 100-foot-long trench to help establish whether Kennewick Man was intentionally buried at the site or died on the riverbank and was covered by flood deposits.
One scientist on Huckleberry’s team, Thomas Stafford Jr. of Lafayette, Colo., said he questioned the need for protecting the site.
Stafford wrote, in a letter that is included in the court report: “There is no reason to stabilize the site any earlier than this summer. Stabilizing the area with boulders and dirt is destruction of evidence. Covering the site with boulders will destroy scientific data as effectively as did the burning of the ancient world’s Library of Alexandria.”
Forensic anthropologist James Chatters, also part of Huckleberry’s research team, found a small fragment of rib bone along the shoreline at the site, which was turned over to the corps. About 500 feet away, he also found a clam midden - a shell refuse heap - left by prehistoric people who were in the area at a later date than Kennewick Man., Chatters said.
He, too, objects to covering the site with rock and gravel.
The corps, which manages the land where the ancient remains were found, has stored the skeleton in a repository at Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
xxxx ANCIENT REMAINS The Kennewick Man skeleton was found in July 1996 by two college students. Initially thought to be that of an early white settler, the skeleton’s age was determined to be 9,300 years by radiocarbon dating.