Re: A Demand for the Kennewick Man's Remains

Sat, 23 Nov 1996 15:40:26 GMT wrote:

>On Wed, 20 Nov 1996, Stella Nemeth wrote:

>> I think it is an update
>> of a report from someone who has done something rather odd with the
>> current law as it stands. If the remains are as old as he says they
>> are, and if they are caucasioid remains, he does have a point. The
>> local tribes that have claimed the remains are no closer related to
>> them than anyone else in the world is, and he has the advantage over
>> them because he is, at least, a memeber of the same general race.

>Which begs the question, "what is race"?

Agreed. Which is why I said "general." It is the Native Americans
who have claimed the body who are claiming that they have a right to
it because of their ethnic background. The original poster to this
thread is the one who, agreeing with you, is objecting to this on the
grounds that ethnic background at that kind of remove in time is
basically meaningless.

>...It is a folk concept -- it
>certainly has no scientific currency, especially in anthropology. The
>indices by which the "race" of skeletons is determined are statistical
>indices. They do not give a probability that a skeleton is one "race" or
>another -- they give the frequency of occurrence of skeletal traits. It
>so happens that some of these traits cluster with others in higher
>frequencies among people from one geographic area than from another.
>When a particular cluster of traits occurs at a rate of 69% among people
>from Africa, it does not mean that a skeleton with such a cluster
>has a 69% probability of being African. The same cluster of traits might
>have a frequency of 42% among Europeans and 39% among Asians. Given the
>different population sizes in those three areas, a 69% frequency within
>one area population might be sufficient for a 52% probability that an unknown
>person with those traits came from Africa. (N.B. the numbers are just
>made up to make the point).

I was aware that this was the basics of the case. Thank you for
adding some details.

>The "race" identifications resulting from these indices are best thought
>of as morphological types. Statistical "norms," if you will. But there
>is always variation around such a "norm". There probably are historical
>(long-term genetic) reasons why there are "norms," "types," modes that
>appear in populations from particular geographic areas. But it does not
>follow that a person who matches a statistical type must be from the
>associated geographic area. Why? Human variation. There is a lot of
>it. If 69% of a population exhibits a particular cluster of traits, that
>means 31% exhibit a different set of traits. And not all clusters of traits
>are mutually exclusive. You might have some clusters that seem "African" and
>others that seem "Asian" in the same skeleton. Assigning "race" is therefore
>an educated guess, as much art as science.

Agreed again. But race wasn't the basis of the man's attempt to get
at the body so much as the basis of his objection to other people
using that reason as the basis of their getting control over the body.

>There are lots of reasons why the identification of the skeleton as
>"caucasian" is suspect, besides it being a sample of 1.

All of which I am sure is true. And also beyond the point of the

>Of course, a Euro-American claim on the skeleton is just the sort of
>proprietary politicking about ownership of the past that NAGPRA emerged
>as a response to.

Now we come to the real question. Why is the claim of a person who
happens to be "Euro-American" (only God knows if the man is or is not
of European background alone) more "proprietary politicking" than the
claims of Native Americans. This skeleton is thousands of years old.
The likelihood that the particular group of Native Americans which
claimed it being descendants of this skeleton is not great. In fact
it is probably quite unlikely.

>.... Because we Euro-Americans assumed that we know best,
>and that Science is good for everyone and everyone had better admit to that.
>Know what?

What is it with this **we** Euro-Americans? MY parents were born in
and/or grew up in Asia. You want to beat your chest and do the guilt
trip, please be my guest. But don't include me in. I am not
ethnically or genetically equiped to be classified as a

Stella Nemeth