The ancient skeleton of the Kennewick Man is being returned to five tribes, to be buried again. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined Wednesday that rests are from a Native American. The decision was based on new DNA tests and skeletal analysis, in the context of a 20-year legal fight to study the bones.

The corps declared that rests, are now covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, said the Associated Press (AP). The skeleton of the Kennewick Man dates to 8,5000 years ago and it is among the most complete ever found in North America.

The ancient skeleton of the Kennewick Man is being returned to five tribes, to be buried again. Credit: National Geographic

It was found in 1996 nearby the Columbia River. Since that moment, the scientific community has tried to analyze the bones with investigation purposes, while tribes have requested them to be buried again.

Earlier on April, researchers at the University of Chicago found new evidence that demonstrates the skeleton’s ancestry, said John November, associate professor of human genetics, to the Seattle Times. Given the new findings, the corps are going to proceed to its repatriation.

While the legal process continues, the Kennewick Man will remain at the Burke Museum in Seattle. However, tribes are now able to request the bones for burial, said Michael Coffey, a spokesman for the corps in Portland, Oregon, as reported by the AP.

The legal process to define which tribe is going to obtain the ancient rests could take a few months, since five different tribes have reported a connection to them, including the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Wanapum.

Tribes have proposed a joint plan to bury the bones

A spokesperson for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon said to reporters at the AP that all five tribes aim to act in conjunction in order to accelerate the burial process of “the Ancient One.” As a result, they will send a joint request to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

“Obviously we are hearing an acknowledgment from the Corps of what we have been saying for 20 years. Now we want to collectively do what is right, and bring our relative back for reburial,” said JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, to The Seattle Times.

The Northwestern division of the Army Corps is confident about skeletal, statistical and genetic evidence, analyzed by experts who determined that the Kennewick Man was a Native American.

Researchers had carefully recovered DNA traces from a fragment of a hand bone. Then, they observed its genetic code and compared it to modern DNA, obtained from saliva of Native Americans and other ethnicities. Finally, results showed more resemblance to DNA of people in American tribes than anywhere in the world.

“The reason why we can come to this conclusion scientifically speaking is because the remains were kept out for science,” said Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist who leads the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen and who led the study of the skeleton, to the Christian Science Monitor.

Source: The Associated Press