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Locked away in a museum safe near Escondido are perhaps the oldest skeletal remains found in the Western Hemisphere.
More than 30 years after the relics were unearthed during a classroom archaeological dig at UC San Diego, the county's Kumeyaay tribes are fighting to reclaim the bones that anthropologists estimate are nearly 10,000 years old.
Background: What may be the oldest skeletal remains found in the Western Hemisphere were discovered during a classroom archaeological dig on UCSD property in 1976. Kumeyaay Indians are trying to have the relics returned.
What's changing: The Kumeyaay and a UC San Diego committee met last week to discuss the issue and lay out benchmarks the tribes would have to meet to have the remains repatriated.
The future: If the Kumeyaay can prove the remains belong to their ancestors, federal law says the bones must be returned.
“We think it's the oldest multiple burial in the New World,” said UCLA anthropology professor Gail Kennedy, who participated in the 1976 dig with a University of California San Diego professor. “We don't know anything about these people other than they lived on the coast and they were fishermen.”
The remains, which a UC consultant says have been dated between 9,590 and 9,920 years old, make them older than Kennewick Man – skeletal remains found on the banks of the Columbia River in 1996. That collection, which is at the center of a years-long legal battle between American Indian tribes and archaeologists – dates back 9,300 years, scientists say.
Although the intact skeletons are being stored only 30 miles from where they were found, the bones have twice been shipped across the country – in the same kind of boxes that hold frozen chicken in a grocery store, an Indian lawyer says – and have been stored in two San Diego County museums.
In 1976, anthropologists took a class to University House to participate in a dig, knowing skeletons had been dug up from the area in the past.
They were amazed at what they found, Kennedy said.
A young man and an older woman were buried together. He was placed at her feet. Two of his fingers were severed and put in his mouth. Both of their skulls were cracked. The condition of the third skeleton was not as good.
Kennedy does not know what the severed fingers denoted but said some cultures amputate fingers as part of a ceremony.
Kennedy said she took the remains to UCLA, where she examined them for a year before giving them back to UCSD. Many details of where the bones have been for the past 32 years are missing.
The Kumeyaay don't care how old the remains are. They simply want to put what they say are their ancestors to rest.
Getting in the way, they say, are garrulous explanations and bureaucracy.
The Kumeyaay also are at odds with UCSD over its plan to tear down University House and replace it with a new one. Tribes say it would further disturb their ancestors' burial ground.
According to members of the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, which was created in 1998, about 29 remains were excavated in 1976 near University House, a home for the UCSD chancellor. Only three, in the safe near Escondido, are accounted for.
“We would like to bury those remains,” said Steve Banegas, chairman of the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee. “We no longer want them disrespected.
UC San Diego is backing off a proposal to hand over a collection of ancient bones to the region's Kumeyaay tribes, leaving the fate of the remains in question.
In February, the University of California San Diego requested federal approval to transfer the nearly 10,000-year-old bones, now locked in a safe near Escondido, to the tribes.
But David Tarler, an administrator with the National Park Service, said the absence of a formal hand-over agreement between the university and the Kumeyaay made the request moot.
“There has to be a meeting of the minds,” he said yesterday.
Originally posted by Monger
If there's nothing more to be learned scientifically from these remains, and if they're locked away in a museum basement somewhere, what harm does it pose in turning them over to the tribe to which they belong?
Originally posted by RuneSpider
if he is one of their ancestors, they would have more of a claim.