The ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man is related to modern Native Americans and will be returned to a tribe for burial, the US Army Corps of Engineers says.
It says its decision is based on a review of new information, particularly recently published DNA and skeletal analyses.
The 8500-year-old remains, which are owned by the corps, were discovered in 1996 in southeastern Washington near the Columbia River in Kennewick, triggering a legal fight between tribes and scientists over whether the bones should be buried immediately or studied.
Corps spokesman Michael Coffey says interested tribes must submit a claim to acquire the skeleton, which will remain at the Burke Museum in Seattle until the tribe that will receive the bones is determined.
In the past, the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Wanapum Indians have claimed a connection to them.
The tribes call the remains the Ancient One and visit the skeleton to hold religious services.
“Obviously we are hearing an acknowledgment from the corps of what we have been saying for 20 years,” Yakama Nation chairman JoDe Goudy told The Seattle Times.
“Now we want to collectively do what is right, and bring our relative back for reburial.”
New genetic evidence determined the remains were closer to modern Native Americans than any other population. Following that, the corps began to re-examine Kennewick Man’s status.
Most scientists trace modern native groups to Siberian ancestors who arrived by way of a land bridge that used to extend to Alaska, but features of Kennewick Man’s skull led some scientists to suggest the man’s ancestors came from elsewhere.
Researchers turned to DNA analysis to try to clarify the skeleton’s ancestry. They recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone, mapped its genetic code and compared that to modern DNA from native peoples of the Americas and populations around the world.
The results showed a greater similarity to DNA from the Americas than from anywhere else, with a close relationship to at least one Native American population, the Colvilles, in Washington state.