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Comments are grouped by article. All comments are from students in Dr. Ken Tankersley's Introduction to Archaeology class at Kent State Univesity. (posted as received)

Battle of the Bones by Robson Bonnichsen and Alan Schneider

Winter 2001

Amanda Bujak Comments on "Battle of the Bones"

When reading "Battle of the Bones" by R. Bonnichsen and A. Schneider, I felt a great tug between N.A.G.P.R.O. and the Archeologists. On one hand I understand the significance of respecting the ancient remains of our Native American Peoples and on the other, I realize the importance in discovering our ancestral past. However, in the specific situation with Kennewick Man, I feel that the court should hand the skull over to the Archeologists under the condition that they first discover if the skull in fact belongs to one of the five local tribes in the area.

Under the tight surveillance of the court, if the Archeologists discover that the skull is Native American, then they must return it to the Native Americans to be buried properly. I think this might provide a step in solving this unsolvable problem. Although using the skull for research is disrespectful to the Native Americans, the Archeologists will be able to tell where we have come from by actually determining if the skull is Native American. The debate is a difficult one and although my idea sounds like a simple solution it hardly solves the problem and the fact that, by doing research on ancient remains we are desecrating humanity by turning it into data, while in turn letting key evidence go back into the ground for no further study, we are doing ourselves a great injustice in determining who we really are. Both of these problems are significant and it is unfair to determine which one is more important. Although I tend to side with the Archeologists in their quest for knowledge, I cannot disregard the beliefs of the Native Americans and therefore cannot truly provide a solution.

Rebecca M. Balduff

I read the article "Battle of the Bones" by Robson Bonnichsen and Alan L. Schneider. The article deals with the issue of keeping bones found in the Americas for archaeological purposes or returning them to the Native Americans. It is very important for humans to know where they come from so every society has developed an origin theory. The Native Americans rely on the fixed legends passed down form previous generations, while modern scientists are continually updating their theories with new archaeological remains. One of the first scientific theories was the Clovis-first theory. The Clovis theory stated that after the last Ice Age, around 11,500 years ago, a group of Siberian mammoth hunters settled the entire continents of North and South America. The theory now seems very farfetched, with the new findings and studies it seems there were people in America 33,000 years ago. This is the basis of science, disproving and inventing theories until the one closest to the truth is found. Native Americans believe without a doubt that their legends are true and this entitles everyone to respect their beliefs. But science in essence is disbelief and it is unfair to withhold and impede the discovery of new artifacts, which could change scientists' beliefs. Every person's beliefs should be respected. Native Americans should not have their ancestors' bones withheld from them, which is in violation of their beliefs. But it is also in violation of the scientists' right to study and build their knowledge if artifacts are kept from them. There must be compromises made to respect everyone's beliefs. The example of the 10,600 year-old Buhl Woman discovered in Idaho should not have been given to the Shoshone-Bannock tribes who have only been in that region 2,000 years. The Native Americans have to respect that some things can be proven that may conflict with their beliefs. Also the Kennewick man should be studied thoroughly to determine if it is or is not a Native American ancestor. Instead of sitting in a locked vault the skeleton should be studied then returned or not according to the findings. Perhaps a time period of all artifacts could be set so they can be studied and the information entered into the scientist beliefs, then given to the Indians in accordance to their beliefs. In today's society everyone's beliefs should be respected and everyone should be able to compromise to respect others beliefs.

Fred Cardinal comments on Battle of the Bones

As we all know, there are many controversial issues that have to deal with the bones of ancient people (Kennewick Man being the most recent). Many archaelogists are fighting for the right to research and study these bones, but the federal government will not let them procede in doing so. The reason for this is because of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPR). The NAGPR says that the bones belong to Native Americans and that they should be returned to them so they can be buried into the ground where they belong.

I believe that the Natives have the right to argue, but the federal government should overpower the Act and let archaeologists study the bones, for historical reasons. The historical fact that Native Americans were here first is important, but I believe that it is more important to our society to find out if that fact is true or not. The Natives say that they were the first inhabitants of this land and that it is part of their religion. If that is the case, then why would they care if archaeologists say that they weren't here first. For the Natives to go against their religion and believe otherwise, is like saying that Christianity was wrong in saying that God created Adam and Eve. Yes, it is important for the Natives to hold their own beliefs, but it is more important for the rest of North and South America to find out who their first inhabitants really were.

I don't exactly know as to which theory, about how the first inhabitants came here, but I do believe that they were some kind of Asian ethnicity. Rather they came from the Dixon theory (people came from Asia in boats) or the Clovis theory (people came over the Beiring Straight), archaeologists have strong scientific facts that the bone structures of these people looked more like Asians than Native Americans, and that is the pevital fact that makes me believe that there was inhabitants before the Natives were here.

Joe Soehnlen writes

After reading the article Battle of the Bones, many different views and comments run through my mind.  There were a number of very good points that were brought about.  One of which is the entire concept of the NAGPRA law affecting the outcome of archaeological finds.  It is very important to know where we came from and who exactly was here first. However, it is understandable why the American Indians take full advantage of this law, one reason being that this land is sacred to them and anything in it is also sacred. Secondly, though, for all their life they have been taught that they were the first to live in this land, not the Europeans.  Now there is this conclusive evidence that theymay be wrong in that sense.  To put it in a better perspective it would be like for us to find out that everything in the Bible is false and can be proven that way. How devastating that would be to our society and culture.  Basically it would be as devastating to the American Indians if they were told these facts.  Nevertheless, I don’t feel that it is right for them to claim every single remains found in the land. There should be an examination of the findings first, and after all necessary information is gained from that finding then they can be returned tothe ground in any manner that may seem essential. 

Yes, there is clear and concise evidence that the Indians may not
be the firstpeople here.  However, as the article stated there could have easily been many other groups of settlers that came to this land and died out before another group came about.  Could those groups that were here before the Indians have a connection with them, in a sense of evolution?   Whether or not these groups are somehow connected relies on extensive research and analysis made.  If we don’t find out where we came in the past, then how exactly are suppose to determine where are we going in the future?

Jeff Cochran
I have always been very interested in bones and human remains. The two articles that caught my eye were Battle of the Bones, and Bones of Contention. As I was reading there was a certain piece of information in both articles that really got my attention. Since I am so interested in bones, I was drawn in to the part about Kennewick Man. Kennewick Man is a skeleton of a man believed to be caucasian that is 9,200 years old. He was discovered on federal land in the eastern part of Washington State.

I find it hard to believe that the government is trying to make it illegal to continue with further studies on the skeleton. Federal officials gave the bones to a coalition of four tribes made up of the Umatilla, the Nez Perce, the Yakama, and the Colville Confederation. The Indians claimed the bones because they feel if the remains were found on their land then it is obviously a descendent of theirs and deserves a proper burial. I do agree with this if it is proven that the bones are from a Native American, but cannot be done without extensive testing.

The Indians feel that they already know enough about who they are and where they come from. They also believe that through oral stories, their people have been around since the beginning of time. Kennewick Man may disprove their beliefs and may open many new doorways to the past, and to prohibit research that may in fact provide truths about who first settled this land we call America, and maybe even whom the first people to come into existence. I feel this information is very important in the understanding of who we are and where we came from.

Roberta Gerdeman
"Battle of the Bones"

The case of the Kennewick Man is an extremely sensitive case and I think isbeing handled in the correct and proper way. My view on who shouldeventually get Kennewick man is a split vote though. I believe that the dead do deserve ones respect and that they shouldn't be disturbed, but I also believe that we are American, who are naturally curious people, and we have the right to know our ancestry. Or perhaps the right to know our country's ancestry, since we can all probably trace our lineage back to colonial days and then to Europe. But my vote is split because the Indian's make an excellent point too; their beliefs and traditions have been protected by law and are nothing like ours. So, too find the answers we are looking for from Kennewick Man might completely destroy their ancestral beliefs and cause both political and social adjustments that will be both harmful and irreversible.Kennewick Man is a 9,200 year old skeleton that might unlock the mysteries and questions that are plaguing archaeologist and historians all over the North America and the World. My decision is that archaeologist should be given a set amount of time to examine Kennewick Man and find as many answers that they can, about his race, age, and life; but after that he should be given back to the Native Americans for burial. Surely both sides can come to an agreement that will both benefit and protect the archaeologist, the
Native Americans, and Kennewick Man.

Kathleen Schmid
Battle of the Bones

I feel that archaeological evidence is the most important element for determining facts. I don't think that there should be a stop on examining bones that are buried in the earth. I feel that the Native Americans should allow archaeologists and scientists to finish their studies on artifacts that they find in the ground.

People have a right to know the truth about their history. The Native Americans want to know the truth about their ancestors, so shouldn't we get the same treatment? Nobody should get in the way of finding out the truth. The Native Americans protest that archaeologists shouldn't be allowed to examine the bodies that they find because they are their ancestors. But, how is one to know for sure if that really is a Native American ancestor without examining it? There have been enough bodies found that challenged the Native Americans beliefs on their ancestry and whether they were the first on the land. The bones that the archaeologists found didn't all look like Native American skeletons and were never allowed to be properly examined. Native Americans should just let the archaeologists examine their finds so that they can finally get to the bottom of the mystery of who really was the first person on the land.

I don't think that people should base their facts on myths and origins. Origins are just stories that are made up to give a reason for something that nobody knows the real answer for. Examinations shouldn't be stopped because some one believes in an origin myth.

I can understand the reasoning about not wanting to disrupt the burial sight. I don't agree with it, but I can understand it. I feel that if a body can solve a mystery, it should be examined. I understand that many people feel that the soul won't be able to rest until it is left alone. But, if it can solve a dispute between people, shouldn't it be allowed to try to solve the dispute?

Brian Donovan writes

I read the article entitled, Battle of the Bones. I agreed with almost exactly half of what Robson Bonnichsen and Alan L. Schneider were saying. Initially, I found the article to be incredibly biased toward the "scientific" side of the issue, which was later affirmed for me by the parallel they drew between this issue, and the issue of evolution versus creationism as an educational standard. Their soapboxing about this issue, saying that the teaching of creationism "threatens educational standards", places them directly into the stereotype of cold, liberal, spiritually-devoid
scientists. This stereotype is one that much of mainstream society places on science and the people that study it. Another example of this is the statement, "What will stop the government from incorporating other religious beliefs into its policies?". These are some occasions that I found them close-minded.

On the other side of the spectrum, I found the NAGPRA side of the issue to be clouded by narrow-mindedness also. The fact that they are willing to say, essentially, that, "my beliefs are true because my ancestors told me so," is terribly unforgiving and un-educated. Why is it bad to consider the new evidence and re-evaluate your beliefs? I believe that part of the reason for the Native American's unwillingness to accept this new evidence is because of their oppressed past, (and, unfortunately, present). They have been getting the proverbial "shaft" from the white government since the British invaded their land over 200 years ago and began killing their people. It is possible, and very likely in my opinion, that they are clinging to this piece of legislature because they see it as one small step to reclaiming their land, tradition, and culture. They feel that if they give in for the sake of science, they will be getting the raw end of the deal, once again, and ruining their chance for more instances of favorable legislature. Also, I believe that any culture, if the entire basis for their storytelling, culture, and religion is being challenged, will retaliate. It is human nature to defend one's learned beliefs.

One of the strongest points working for the scientists in the Kennewick case is that, historically, any theory that eventually changes the way archaeology was viewed was met with great opposition at first. I site the Clovis-first research. This was thought to be a viable model for the settling of the Americas for years, and is now proved inaccurate. When it was first proposed, it was challenged and sneered at, and is now the only accepted model for the settling of the americas. In conclusion, I believe that both sides are guilty of close-mindedness, but after reviewing the motives that are driving these views, I think the scientist's views have less of a chance of becoming tainted with the yearning for culture and the need for reparation of past oppression. Furthermore, I believe that there is no such thing as too much truth, and that is all that the scientists are trying to determine here.

Michelle Monske writes
Battle of the Bones

"Recent archaeological findings have lead to revolutionary new theories about the First Americans-and to a tug-of-war between scientist and contemporary Native Americans" By: Robson Bonnichsen and Alan L. Schneider

Personal my views on this issue are rather torn between both the scientist and the Native Americans. The scientist should have received the remains due to the fact that they could have changed history, and cleared up many misunderstandings, with the origin of the human races in the America. This is why I feel the scientist should have the rights to study this 9,2000-year-old skeleton. However, due to the NAGPRA the Native Americans should get the skeleton. I feel for the Native Americans because the remains have to do with their religion, and the idea that they want to put their deceased to rest peacefully through following their traditions.

I have the feeling that this issue will never be resolved without one group being let down. How can any person deny another of their rights that are backed up by NAGPRA? Also, how can you deny the scientist their rights when they are only trying figure out America's history?

Raia Dull writes

In response to the "Battle of the Bones" column, I became very interested in the many theories of how and when the first human remains were found. Many different people have many different ideas of when the first humans exhisted in the new world. It was intriguing to read how when archaeologist make findings, if on IndianTerritory, they must give it back to the tribe, for a proper burial. I believe that if a remarkable finding is brought to our attention, and will help us inquire knowledge about the past, that we should be able to perform tests, and experiments to create a knowledgeable basis for the archaeological field. After testing certain artifacts such as Bones, spearheads and such, they should be given back to the rightful tribe. The Kennewick man story caught my eye because of how such a miraculous discovery it made. Considered to be the oldest found in North America, the bones had to be returned to the tribe. In conclusion I
agree when the column states that the dead do deserve respect, but we deserve to know what lie in the past, and deserve to know where we come from. I also find it interesting that there are so many types of tests to determine how old certain artifacts are. There is DNA testing, carbon dating, and other resourcful way to find out about our past. There are many ideas from many different people to where the first Americans actually came from. Some think from China, others think from Europe, but do we actually know where the first people came from. Depending on your culture, anyone can be right about this if you have the right knowledge and the right tools.

Name withheld (Fall 2000)

I found the articles "Battle of the Bones" and "Bones of Contention" fascinating. I was unaware of the ongoing difficulties in archaelogy because of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Origin of man has always been a topic of interest to me. I come from a religious background (Presbyterian) and therefore I believe that man was created by a higher being, God. However, as a zoology major I also believe in the theory of evolution. This may seem a contradiction but I don't think it has to be. The Bible says that Earth was created in seven days, but who is to say exactly how long "seven days" actually was; a day to God could be a century to us. So I believe that God did create Earth and man but not in the length of time that we know as seven days. And I believe that God played a role in evolution, creating the many species which we know today including humans. Even though I have my beliefs, I am still interested in the study of archaelogy and perhaps finding out whether my beliefs are correct. (Although I don't think that the presence of God can ever be proven.) It's hard to image that anyone would not want to know their history, but I guess some people and cultures believe that their past does not need to be proven by science. I believe that NAGPRA was created with good intentions but it has become a definite problem for archaeologists. Past remains should definitely be returned to their affiliated tribe, however, I don't think that the correct tribe to return them to should be decided by merely giving the remains to the tribes currently living in those locations. The remains should be thoroughly studied not only to add to our knowledge of the past, but so that the remains can be returned to the appropriate tribe. I can understand the tribes point of view; I probably wouldn't want the bones of my ancestors unburied and studied by a bunch of strangers, but at the same time I would be curious to find out about my heritage and how my ancestors lived. Hopefully, Native Americans and archaeologists will be able to come to some sort of agreement which will benefit and suit both groups. Although the road to this agreement may not exist now, maybe in the near future the construction can begin.

Joshua B. Krage

In response to the Battle of the Bones, the argument does not appear to be about what belongs to who, but rather about Native American populations trying to avoid a possible discovery that their beliefs about their origins are in error.

It is understandable that since many cultures and societies are based on their religious beliefs, questioning those beliefs would not be favorable or desirable amongst it's members. However, it seems that if the members of the culture were as confident in their beliefs as the Native Americans seem to be, they would have nothing to fear from the scientific study of the remains they believe to be their ancestors. As a matter of fact it seems that since they are so convinced these remains are in fact of there ancestors and that there roots unquestionably lie with these people they would be eager to have tests administered to support these claims and put to rest the entire controversy. If, as Downey states in Riddle of the Bones, the belief is that Native American theories about their origins are just as good as a theories offered by science, then doesn't it make sense that the government should treat theories offered by science with the same respect the Native American theories are treated?

These remains are human remains belonging to all humans. In light of new techniques used for dating and analyzing it seems criminal not to take advantage of the remains and other materials of these sites. They may hold answers to the questions the past. Answers that can shed just a little more light on a mystery. Not a mystery of this ethnic background or that group of people, but, of all mankind. Where we came from, where we went, and how we have come to be the people we are today.

Valerie Baxter
Interpretation of a Battle

After reading the article " Battle of the Bones" by Robson Bonnichsen and Alan L. Schneider, I realized a few key points. The first one being that American archeology theories possess similar elements to the spiritual beliefs and faiths of others. The theories are temporarily linked to some kind of physical evidence and the legends are linked to ancestors that promise what they say is fact not fiction. It is often easy to dismiss the faith of one as myth, but it is also often that physical evidence supporting a theory is abandoned. Regardless of this I believe it to be of great importance to study the past. For it is through the past that we may find the key to our future.

This brings me to another key point of interest. The American natives claim they have always been here. I believe this to be true by looking at America's present situation. Things often tend to repeat themselves and the evolvement of man is no exception. Almost every ethnic group has married one another producing offspring. Americans of the past may have done this as well in order to breed a stronger race to accommodate the earth's drastic changes. If this were true then the characteristics of modern Native Americans may not be exactly the same as their ancestors of 8,000 plus years ago. It is only an idea but I think that a combined study of the past and present is needed in order to lay down the foundations of the creation or evolvement of man.

Name withheld
Battle of the Bones

I want to agree with Robson Bonnichsen and Alan L Schneider, when they speak against the governments role in the whole problem with the native americans and their ancestors. I can see where the Native Americans demand respect for their ancestors according to their religious beliefs, but I think in this case they are acting with too much haste. These people are assuming that the remains are of their ancestors. This is misleading. I agree that testing the remains is necessary to find out who these people really are. Based on this writing occurances where they actually proved that the person had no relation to the tribe were still claimed because the government refused the archaeological research and testing of it. This is rediculous. The government should have no say first of all. This is a matter to be settled with the tribe and the archaeologists. I think that they should be allowed to test the remains before commiting possession to the tribe. I don't see how it would effect either in a negative way. Just a clarification on who and when the person lived. I believe that to give a tribe permission to bury remains of someone, that could in fact not be related to them, is somewhat disrespectful. And yet the tribes claim that it is respectful. I just hope that this matter is settled soon, and that in the end both people are satisfied and the public informed. If only they could examine the remains, and if information allows, then the tribes can give their ancestor a proper burial.

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