Kennewick Man is the identify assigned to the skeleton remains of a prehistoric male Paleoamerican. The remains had been discovered along the banks of the Columbia river in Kennewick, Washington State in the yr 1996. Later known as the Ancient One among Native Americans, the Kennewick Man is radiocarbon dated to be round nine thousand years old. However, the discovery of the Kennewick Man raised legal and social storms between scientists and the Native American tribes who claimed ancestral members of the family to the Kennewick Man due to the proximity of the remains to their aboriginal settlements. Moreover, the study of the stays did upset the commonly accepted historical, political, and demographic things. The discovery of Kennewick Man resulted in a protracted legal battle regarding the custody and use of the skeletal remains. The basis of the conflict was the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) which relates to the treatment of various Native American cultural artifacts, such as human remains or sacred relics. The Act holds that any of the cultural items held by any federal agency or found in a federal property to be returned, upon request, to any federally recognized Indian tribe (Coleman and Dysart 2005: 10). While Native American tribes claimed ancestral relations to the Kennewick Man and thus requested for the repatriation of the remains, a group of scientists objected these claims in court and sought for the use of the remains for scientific study. In the end, the courts ruled in favor of the scientists as the Native Americans were unable to provide concrete evidence to illustrate that Kennewick Man is one of their ancestral relations.
The conflicts between scientists and the Native American tribes illuminated on various antagonistic areas between cultural heritage and science. These areas included morality, heritage, and progress. The Indians presented their arguments on the moral grounds that examination of the remains is both invasive and disrespectful hence, their objections. Additionally, the tribes indicated that their history had been passed on through their oral traditions and their religious practices which, examines the remains immoral (Coleman and Dysart 2005:15-16). This conflict of heritage between the scientists and the tribes increased further as scientists refused to accept oral traditions as the sole source of history since they exclude evidence and other tests to ascertain their truth. In addition to the conflict on heritage, the discovery of Kennewick Man revealed conflicts between culture and science regarding progress. Whereas anthropologists as scientists are interested in studying the various traces of the past, different customs and traditions such as the Native Indian culture limit the examination of past civilizations and essential events.
The court ruling provided the opportunities for scientists to study the remains to illuminate on various prehistoric aspects. From the numerous studies conducted, it was evident that Kennewick Man was not related to Native Americans as previously claimed. In fact, it was established that the Kennewick Man was related to the Polynesian or Ainu groups rather than the claimant tribes of Pacific Northwest (Rasmussen et al. 2015: 455). As a result, the scientists deduced that the Kennewick Man originated from the South Asian region while Native Americans originate from the North Asian areas. Furthermore, the cranial morphology of the Kennewick Man set him apart from the Mongoloid morphology of Native Americans. As a result of these differences between the Kennewick Man and the Native American tribes, the location, and age of the skeletal remains sparked interest in the demographic studies of migration patterns.
Before the discovery of the Kennewick Man, migration into North America during the Ice Age was assumed to have occurred across the Bering Strait from Siberia into Alaska by the Native Americans, due to lack of evidence of other occupations at the time. However, the discovery of Kennewick Man strengthened different theories that suggested that numerous groups occupied North America simultaneously where some arrived there by boat (Coleman and Dysart 2005: 10). This new evidence regarding settlement in the North American Continent, therefore, opens doors for research of possible different migration patterns during the Ice Age rather than the commonly accepted theories.
Furthermore, the discovery of Kennewick Man threatened to bring various political upheavals, more so, based on the idea of race. The political changes were projected to arise as the status of “first nation” assigned to the Native Americans would be challenged (Coleman and Dysart 2005: 10). The special “first nation” status gives Native Americans special legal rights, and the establishment of a simultaneous occupation of the North American Continent by other groups would water down this special status. The evidence of simultaneous occupation during the settlement by Native Americans would lead to the agitation by other groups against the preferential treatment of the Native Americans by the various levels of government. These agitations are, therefore, likely to cause a political conflict among different groups.
In conclusion, the discovery of skeletal fossil remains of the Kennewick Man resulted in a legal battle between the Native American tribes and scientists. In the legal battle, conflicts among the two parties revolved around morality, heritage, and progress. However, scientists won the legal tussle, and the subsequent studies revealed the Polynesian origin of the Kennewick Man thus initiating the debate that North America may have experienced simultaneous occupation by different groups during the Ice Age. This shift in perception regarding the occupation of North America during the Ice Age may result in various political conflicts as the “first nation” status of the Native Americans is likely to be challenged.
Coleman, Cynthia-Lou, and Erin V. Dysart. “Framing of Kennewick Man Against the Backdrop of a Scientific and Cultural Controversy.” Science Communication, vol. 27, no. 1, 2005, pp. 3-26.
Rasmussen, Morten, et al. “The Ancestry and Affiliations of Kennewick Man.” Nature, vol. 523 no. 7561, 2015, pp. 455-459.