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Results Confirm UCR Assessment: Kennewick Man is Ancient

Results Confirm UCR Assessment: Kennewick Man is Ancient

(January 13, 2000)

Kennewick Man, a skeleton found on the muddy banks of the Columbia River in 1996, was declared to be officially Native American by the U.S. Department of the Interior today, based on radiocarbon dating results that confirm that the bones have been buried since before Columbus arrived in the New World.

R. Ervin Taylor, chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, has been a key player in those tests. As director of the UCR Radiocarbon Laboratory, Taylor was able to announce in Oct., 1996 that the bones were more than 9,000 years old.

A second round of tests, conducted recently by UCR and two other laboratories, produced similar results, released today at a press conference in Seattle. They have also been posted on the World Wide Web:

Two of the laboratories, Beta Analytical Inc. in Florida and Taylor's lab at UCR, measured the age to be similar to UCR's first analysis. Another, the University of Arizona, measured the age of the bone at closer to 6,000 years old.

A low level of protein content in the second set of bone fragments complicated the outcome, according to Taylor, who said he was satisfied that the follow-up tests generally confirm his original estimates of age.

"All the geological evidence from the site from which the Kennewick skeleton was excavated is consistent with our original date," Taylor said. "Nevertheless, from the time that we ran the first date, I urged that duplicate analysis be obtained by other labs to confirm our number."

These tests of age have become crucial evidence in the Department of the Interior's decision to consider these remains "Native American" for the purposes of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA).

Native American tribes contend that the remains are sacred relics and must be reburied. Scientists, meanwhile, are suing to continue their studies on the bones to determine their historic and scientific importance.

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