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A Response to NPS's Determination

J. M. Prince wrote: The determination that the Kennewick Man remains are 'Native American' is a strictly bureaucratic one. The definition used by the NPS and the US Federal government at this time is based solely on time depth, so any remains older than ~500 years are automatically classified as 'Native American' for the purposes of the highly controversial NAGPRA Law. So if perchance there were ever any Norse remains found in Maine, they would then be described as being 'Native American' for purposes of this law.

The case of the K-Man is fraught with the difficulties of interpreting and applying this recent repatriation law to ~9,000 year old human remains. This is especially true where it remains to be seen if any of the surrounding tribal groups claiming the skeleton have any real close biological or cultural affiliation with the individual represented by the K-Man remains. This finding has not been made and it may require some DNA testing on the populations of tribal members who are making such claims to resolve the issue.

An occupational time depth of some 1000 ya. can be shown for quite a few populations in Europe, but very few studied extant human populations could even approach the time depth of this example. The populations that might come closest would have been highly isolated for many hundreds of years (and fairly recently), something that was most likely not the case with the natives of the NW coast of North America. So I will be unsurprised if there is indeed a finding of no (or little) biological affiliation between the living tribal groups who are staking a claim to the remains, but this might be found to be irrelevant according to some interpretations of the law. Which is why this is all in litigation.

For the scientifically oriented among the audience the complexities of trying to model population structure and events from ancient human remains are ably demonstrated in a recent work by Joe Powell and Walter Neves in the AJPA 1999 Yearbook, "Craniofacial Morphology of the First Americans: Pattern and Process in the Peopling of the New World." Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 1999, 42:153-188. It is their considered opinion that "...the data are consistent with Paloindians having derived from an undifferentiated Asian population that was not ancestral to modern American Indians" (p.153). But who knows what the DNA data might show? We should at least be willing to wait and study the remains to test some of the prevailing hypotheses here. Cheers, J.M. Prince, Ph.D., Ga.

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