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Ancient One: 9,000-Year-Old Ancestor Of Native American Tribe Finally Laid To Rest

First Posted: Feb 21, 2017 03:30 AM EST

Kennewick Man, known in the high desert of the Columbia Plateau as the "Ancient One," was finally reburied on Saturday. This was after 20 years of legal battles and scientific studies.

A feeling of finality and catharsis overcame those who fought to reclaim and repatriate the remains of the ancient ancestor, as well as sadness in remembering those who did not live to see such triumph. Still, for the tribes, there had been a sense of accomplishment in seeing the Kennewick Man returned to his rightful burial ground.

Chuck Sams, the communications director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said that the return of the Ancient One's remains, despite arguments of scientists, "validated" what they felt all along. The Kennewick Man was theirs and was one of their own.

The Seattle Times reported that over the course of the legal battle, scientists have argued that the Ancient One was not an ancestor of the Columbia Plateau Tribes unearthed from the Columbia River banks in 1996. The bones are said to be among the oldest and most complete ancient human skeletons ever to be discovered in North America. It set off a legal battle between scientists who wanted to study the origin of the remains and the local tribes that wanted them reinterred.

Archeologists initially argued that the proportions of the Ancient One's skull were a closer match to Europeans than to Native Americans. According to Yahoo, this set off the decades-long debate regarding his origins. Five Pacific Northwestern tribes then went to the Army Corps of Engineers, which had jurisdiction over the unearthed bones, and asked to have him handed to them for repatriation in accordance to federal law.

A group of scientists managed to block the handover, arguing that the skeleton was not associated with any of the present-day tribes. Because of federal judges siding with the scientists, the tribes lost the 380 bones and bone fragments, which were then made available for study. These were then locked away at Seattle's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

By 2015, a big break came when scientists announced a close DNA match to an individual from the Colville confederation, one of the five tribes that originally filed the suit. Further studies confirmed that the skeleton was, in fact, in the proper range for Native Americans, leading to a definitive ruling and, eventually, a reburial.

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