PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton that created a furor when scientists said it appeared to be from a European settler, was Native American after all, the Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday.
The discovery of the almost complete skeleton along the Columbia River in 1996 led to two decades of controversy.
Named for the town near the site where two college students stumbled upon the skeleton, Kennewick Man created heated debate over who owned the remains, and its genetic origins.
Radiocarbon dating estimated the skeleton as 8,340 to 9,200 years old, and its physical characteristics indicated that it was a European settler, scientists said after it was discovered.
That caused a furor among Native American tribes, who doubted the science and demanded the bones for reburial. Scientists and archaeologists wanted to hold onto the skeleton to study it.
"Scientists have dug up and studied Native Americans for decades," Armand Minthorn of the Umatilla tribe wrote after the discovery. "We view this practice as desecration of the body and a violation of our most deeply-held religious beliefs."
On Wednesday, the Corps of Engineers said it had determined Kennewick Man was of Native American origin, and would be subject to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Recent analyses showed Kennewick Man's skull, skeleton and genes indicated it was closer to Native American origin than any other, the Corps of Engineers said.
The Corps of Engineers contracted with a computational biologist to verify the DNA findings.
With the determination that Kennewick Man was Native American, the next steps are to establish the priority of custody based on evidence of different tribes' affiliation with the remains, the Corps of Engineers said.
Tribes claiming ownership of Kennewick Man include the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Wanapum Band.
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