Part Two: The Bombs That Ignited the Controversy
At ground zero of the controversy is UW graduate James Chatters, who earned his doctorate in anthropology in 1982. As the first anthropologist to study the remains, it was Chatters who dropped the pair of bombs that ignited the ongoing controversy.
Appearing at a press conference in Kennewick in August 1996one month after the skull was discovered and numerous other bones retrievedChatters announced the skeleton was approximately 9,000 years old and displayed "Caucasoid," not traditional Native American, features.
From that moment on, "everything went crazy," recalls Chatters, who says he's now regarded as either "a hero ... or the anti-Christ" for his handling of the remains.
Chatters had managed the cultural resources program at the Pacific Northwest Laboratory in Richland before leaving to start his own business, Applied Paleoscience. He also occasionally volunteered to examine human remains for the Benton County Coroner. That is how Kennewick Man fell into his handsas the subject of a forensic exam.
What happened during the month Kennewick Man was in Chatters' custody set the dominoes in motion for everything that followed. While Chatters maintains all of his actions were "above board," his critics accuse him of trampling the spiritif not the letterof federal law.
The primary law governing the case is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Passed in 1990, it requires Indian remains and artifacts found on federal land to be returned to the appropriate contemporary tribeprovided the tribe has an affiliationsuch as biological, cultural, historical, archaeologicalwith the bones or objects. Native Americans consider the remains of their ancestorsno matter how ancientsacred. "The process of the passing of this life into the next is a very significant one," says Van Pelt. "And that process is interrupted when the bones are uncovered."
On the face of it, the law would seem to be a thorn in the side of scientists, handcuffing their ability to thoroughly test and examine important discoveries. But Stein, a UW anthropologist and divisional dean of computing, facilities and research, is among those who take a different view.
|On the Web:|
Burke Museum Kennewick Man Exhibit