Kennewick Man Clay Model
A clay facial reconstruction of the Ancient One shows what he many have looked like.

Returning the Ancient One

Duane Champagne

The Ancient One, known to archaeologists and the public as Kennewick Man, has been the focus of controversy between archaeologists and American Indian tribes. The recent matching of DNA samples taken form members of the Confederated Tribes of Colville and the Ancient One show that he is one of their ancestors.

RELATED: DNA Proves Kennewick Man, the Ancient One, Is Native; Tribes Continue Fight for Reburial

Archaeologists have long made arguments that only tribal groups that can show historical affiliation with ancestral remains and burial belongings can make claim for the return and reburial of their ancestors and associated belongings. For many Indian nations, where they live and how long they lived in a region are found in their oral traditions and creation or migration teachings. Indian nations claim ancestors who may have lived as long as ten or twelve thousand years ago. Archaeologists, relying heavily on scientific methods, do not belief that such arguments are reliable. They argue that tribes migrate, and they are expecting that the culture styles, art, and burial practices of an Indian nation will be similar, if not exactly the same, as when an ancestor lived thousands of years ago.

Nevertheless, archaeologists argue that Indian peoples changed hunting and living styles in accordance with a warming environment over the past twelve thousand years. As the large game animals became more scarce owing to warmer climate, so too did the Indians have to find new ways or give more emphasis to hunting smaller game and fishing. Human groups generally tend to adapt to their changing environments, and Indian peoples have done the same. The argument that whenever an Indian ancestor is discovered, local tribes cannot rebury unless there is a strong cultural match with a contemporary Indian nation, is not historically or archeologically true or consistent.

In many states, burial grounds over 400 years old are not protected Christian burial sites. The absence of basic protection of Indian ancestors within the frame of state law is a continuing issue. Many in current archaeology suggest that any ancestral remain over 400 years old cannot be tied to a specific tribal nation or culture. Consequently, tribes cannot receive thousands of ancestors held in museums and colleges. In many countries, like Mexico, if cultural or ancestral remains are over 500 years old, the findings belong to the state government, not to any Indian nation. Keeping the protection of burial sites solely within the frame of Christian burials jeopardizes the reburial rights of all indigenous nations.

Not only do archaeologists suggest that Indian nations are culturally singular and static, but they also insist that the primary means of indigenous social and cultural change does not happen internally, but only externally. If the cultural style of an uncovered tribal ancestor does not show the near exact same cultural style as a near present-day Indian nation, then it is argued that the ancestor is from a different culture that migrated out of the territory, before present-day Indian tribes came to take their place. In this way, archaeologists work to discredit the claims of Indian tribes who want to claim the ancestors in their traditional territories. There is no recognition that Indian nations may occupy a region and also change their cultural ways over long periods of thousands of years. The scientists present vision of never changing but always migrating Indian nations.

It is bad enough that Indian peoples are greatly hampered by academic arguments that are not internally logical, but the archaeologists not only have influence at universities, but in the case of the Ancient One, they extended their influence to a court of law. The archaeologists made persistent arguments, but those arguments are now overturned by the DNA testing, which shows that the Ancient One was always an ancestor of one or more local Indian nation. Hopefully this finding will enable Indian peoples to reclaim and rebury their ancestors and at the same time negotiate cooperation for respectful and useful science.

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tvc15's picture
Submitted by tvc15 on
We have progeny who then have progeny and you put that together with all of the migration stories and myths of strangers kidnaping fair maids who then have progeny or the animal husbands and fair maids who then have progeny and...well...there have been all kinds of us amongst us for a very long time. maybe even beardy NDNs, eh? ;-D