Archaeologists at UC San Diego, La Jolla are currently battling for the privilege to study two human skeletons, more than 9,000 years old, recovered during a construction projector at the Chancellor’s home.
The conflict has brought to the head current controversial issues involving NAGPRA (Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act), which gives primary consideration to local tribes (regardless of biological or cultural affiliation with remains or artifacts). Handing the skeletons over to local tribes would permanently bar scientists from studying the remains.
“To give them away without study, would be like throwing the genetic crown jewels of the peopling of the Americas in the ocean,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who is among about a half dozen researchers who have unsuccessfully sought in recent months to sample or study the bones. “It would be a major loss for all, including Native Americans.”
Current representations of the 12-Tribes (the powerful tribal council in the region) has demanded repatriation of the bones immediately in accordance with current laws and practice. This case may serve as a turning point for archaeologists and scientists that have long contested the validity of NAGPRA.
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