Bones will be given back to US Indians

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The Independent US

American Indian leaders have won a crucial round in their battle to take back from scientists a 9,000-year-old skeleton found in the Columbia river four years ago. They intend to give a ceremonial burial to the skeleton, one of the oldest and most complete found in North America.

American Indian leaders have won a crucial round in their battle to take back from scientists a 9,000-year-old skeleton found in the Columbia river four years ago. They intend to give a ceremonial burial to the skeleton, one of the oldest and most complete found in North America.

Bruce Babbitt, the US Interior Secretary, ruled against anthropologists who have been fighting to keep control of the remains for further testing. He said the bones should be returned to American Indian tribes who say the remains are those of an ancestor.

The skeleton is known as the Kennewick Man after the spot where the bones were discovered and excavated. Analysis suggested they were of Polynesian or southern Asian origin. This fuelled speculation that the first Indians came to North American by boat and not, as previously thought, by a land bridge from Russia.

Members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, on reservations in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, celebrated the decision. "We knew in our heart that this one is an ancestor, but we are saddened that it took the federal government so long to make this determination," said Armand Minthorn. The scientific community has vowed to fight back, however. "Why they did it, I don't know," said Paula Barran, a lawyer for eight scientists who have filed a lawsuit to keeppossession of the remains. "It's so astonishing."

The government was guided in part by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 that ensures American Indians their rights in reclaiming human remains and other relics. There were no artefacts with the skeleton that might have suggested it was from any tribe other than the Umatilla.

Mr Babbitt said: "This was a close call." In his decision he said the remains appeared to be "culturally affiliated" with the tribes. Analysis suggests the bones and other fragments may be between 9,420 and 9,150 years old. Efforts to extract DNA samples have failed.

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