Re: A Demand for the Kennewick Man's Remains
22 Nov 1996 15:18:58 GMT

.Date: Thu, 21 Nov 1996 13:32:42 -0600
.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.

Rebecca Lynn Johnson responded:

.Which begs the question, "what is race"? 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
.person with those traits came from Africa. (N.B. the numbers are just
.made up to make the point).

.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
.are mutually exclusive. You might have some clusters that seem "African"
.others that seem "Asian" in the same skeleton. Assigning "race" is
.an educated guess, as much art as science.

.But you never really assign "race". Race presumes a particular
.historical circumstance (genetic relationship to a particular
.population). The statistical indices don't address questions of history,

.they address questions of associations between traits. You can have a
.person who fits the statistical "type" for caucasians -- but if there is
.no viable historical explanation for the presence of caucasians at that
.place at that time, then you are better off saying that the person is
.genetically related to Asians, but exhibits sufficient variation around
.the Asian "type" that they appear "caucasian". But since "race" presumes

.historical connection, and there is no evidence of that, then the concept

.of "race" is clearly a misnomer -- "type" is far more appropriate.

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

.First, the indices by which we make such "racial" -- i.e. typological --
.classifications are based on a big (I think about 50,000) collection of
.skeletons at the Smithsonian Institution (I don't remember the name, but
.it's well known among physical anthropologists). I think this
.collection contains mostly social unfortunates (e.g. poor people) from
.the 19th and 20th centuries. In general, a great deal of demographic
.information about the individuals is known -- age, sex, health, race (in
.the historical sense). But the majority of it is caucasian, which means
.that we may not have a good grasp of the real range of variation in other

."races". Moreover, by the last century, there were quite a few
."biracial" people (which, incidentally, is why the concept of race as an
.historical genetic association with a particular geographic population
.does not work. I'll keep using it that way for simplicity, though).

.So our indices MAY generally hold for modern populations -- but the
.in question is 9,000 years old! There is NO reason for assuming that
.human variation 9,000 years ago is exactly what is has been in the past
.150 years! We are comparing a 9,000 year-old person with a modern
.control sample. That introduces an unknown amount of error. To say that

.this individual is caucasian, we would have to know the range of human
.variation among 9,000 year old caucasians, as well as Asians and Africans

.(to make sure that there wasn't so much overlap as to make two groups

.Second, aren't there caucasians in central Asia? What about the
.aboriginal people of northern Japan (the Ainu) --
.weren't they "caucasian" in appearance? "Race" (in the sense of
.genetic relationship) is not interchangeable with culture. Maybe there
.was a small population of "caucasians" that migrated over the Bering into

.North America. But if so, there culture was likely far more similar to
.Native Americans than to Europeans (both 9,000 years ago and today).
.NAGPRA is not based on "racial" affiliation, but on cultural
.affiliation. Just because someone may have looked like you doesn't mean
.they would have identified with you rather than with someone who looked
.different. Even if the claimant belongs to the same "race" he does NOT
.have a better claim. "Race" and ethnicity are different.

.Since there is no evidence of long-distance colonization 9,000 years ago,

.we have to assume that, whatever "racial" affiliation the person may have

.had, there cultural affiliation was probably more like that of the people

.around them. And certainly their descendants' culture would have become
.part of that great variety of Native American culture. Perhaps this
.skeleton was a member of the "caucasian race". That doesn't give
.Euro-Americans a claim on it, because probably this person WAS a Native
.American. "Native American" does not refer to a "race," it refers to the

.population that for historical reasons was the first human population to
.settle in North America. Apparently this person was among them.
.The rest of us Euro-Americans came some 8,500 years later. We are NOT
.Native Americans (leaving aside those many of us who have Native American

.great-grandparents -- that was substantially after 9,000 years ago).

This is well delivered argument, and I couldn't agree with you more. I
hinted in an earlier post that the identification of the remains as
"caucasoid" are at best questionable, but you have demonstrated why in a
cogent way.

About this next, you and I have an honest disagreement:

.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're beginning round two. Better we should start

.being cooperative than be stubborn. Why do you think the situation is
.what it is today? Because we Euro-Americans assumed that we know best,
.and that Science is good for everyone and everyone had better admit to
.Know what? Uh-uh. Euro-American culture is not the apex of human
.cultural achievement. That sort of arrogance just pisses off
.non-Euro-Americans, and there are a lot more of them than there are of
.us. This kind of claim is the NAGPRA version of crying "reverse
.discrimination" with respect to affirmative action. Losing a position of

.privilege and being forced to compete is not discrimination.

.Rebecca Lynn Johnson
.Ph.D. stud., Dept. of Anthropology, U Iowa

Repatriation is and should be based upon demostrable affiliation. This is
even stickier and more problematic than the identification of "race". Let
me give an example of a case I have had first-hand experience with.

1. Human remains are found in North Georgia, near the Coosa river.
Context and radiocarbon dates show them to be from circa 1500 A.D.
Cherokees claim these remains. These Cherokees range from the Federally
recognised groups in North Carolina to some extremely questionable groups
in Georgia. Some of these Georgia groups are state (but not federally )
recognized, while others are not. For an ethnohistorian, most of the
Georgia groups are quite dubious: phenotypically, they are identical to
their "white" neighbors, they do not speak the Cherokee language, maintain
any ceremonial customs or traditional Cherokee material culture. Their
claim to "Indianess" is solely an assertion based either upon no evidence
or a smattering of Cherokee blood from an Indian Princess -- and a further
claim that since Cherokee were 'matrilineal', all of that woman's
descendents are ipso facto Cherokee. I might note that the North Carolina
Cherokees, and those Cherokees in Oklahoma, do not recognise the Georgia
Cherokees as Cherokee. To complicate matters, certain AIM activists do
recognize the Georgia Cherokee because their agenda is ton increase the
"number" of recognised Indains for political purposes. These AIM
activists are uniformly not of Cherokee descent at all, but owe
affiliation to groups like the Lakota. The last time the Cherokee and
Lakota shared a common ancestor may well have been in Asia.

It gets worse, because despite the common knowledge that the Cherokee
"lived in North Georgia", they did not live there in 1500 A.D.
Archaeology and the historical record show that at that time they were
confined to a small area in the Smokey Mountains, and they certainly did
not identify themselves as Cherokee or probably as any other unified
group, existing instead as a group of small independent chiefdoms. The
ethnic identity of "Cherokee" did not gel until the seventeenth century.

Who WAS in what is now North Georgia? A sprawling chiefdom known as
Coosa. Lingusitically, Coosa was diverse. It included speakers of the
languages we now know as Hitchiti, Muskogee, and Koasati -- but as I'm
sure you know, the relationship between language, culture, and political
entities is also problematic. Coosa collapsed in the sixteenth century
due to a number of factors (not the least of which was introduced disease)
and its consituent members scattered, coalescing with other shattered
chiefdoms from of all parts of the Southeast (and in some cases the
Midwest) to formm the historic "tribes". Many of these "tribes" -- like
the Creek Confederacy , which is where many of the surviving Coosans
probably ended up -- did not identify themselves as being "Creek", but
maintained smaller ethnic identities which may or may not have existed
under the political regime of Coosa. The identification of oneself as
"Creek" is actually a function of their definition by the Federal
government at the time of removal and is thus more "real" now than it was
two hundred years ago. Groups too small to form their own Federal tribe
(like the Yuchi) ended up being "Creek". I mention the Yuchi specifically
because some of them are now trying to be recognized seperately.

So who do the remains go to? Archaeologists in this region have been
conscientiously trying to solve this problem. With remains like those
mentioned above, they tend to go to the Oklahoma Creeks, because despite
its fragililty, they have the most reasonable claim.

Older human remains present a much bigger problem. Human remains 9,000
years old simply have no "Tribal" affilitation. All that remains is
assertion, and any Native American group may assert with equal legitmacy
that the remains should go to them. Geographic proximity is nonsensical
in this case unless you accept the undemonstrable assertion by the NA in
question that they have "always been there". I don't see why anyone
should accept this any more than we accept fundamentalists demands that we
teach Creation Science in the classroom. The fact that the people in
question have suffered persecution does not somehow afford them the right
to make claims of law based upon unfounded assertion.

A second point -- As you pointed out, NA do not constitute a race, nor do
they constitute any social, political, or spiritual unity. Many modern NA
do not much care what happens to bones. As a child I lived on the Navajo
Rez, and most people wanted bones as far from them as possible. Whatever
Kenniwick man's people thought about human remains we will simply never
know, barring time travel. My point here is that the assertion that the
bones are sacra which have been profaned and must be reburied is the
assertion of a few NA groups, but certainly not of all.

While science may have orginated in Europe, there are today many NA
scientists, mathematicians, and so on -- it is an intellectual, not a
"racial" domain. I will further point out that not all anthropologists
are "Euro-Americans" and not all people interested in the paleo-history of
North America are Euro-Americans. My fieldwork is with the Mississippi
Choctaw, to whom I also have a genetec relationship (which, to the M.
Choctaw means that I am 7/8 's "Euro-American" rather than 1/8 Choctaw,
with which point I agree entirely). The Choctaw have a tribal
archaeologist, and many have participated in archaeological research --
including excavating human remains while being railed at by suspicioiusly
pale Indians waving burning sage bundles (Sage was never ceremonially
important in the Southeast).

If we break with the acid test of demonstrability, any claim becomes
valid, and any study of any human remains becomes impossible. It is my
opinion -- and that's just what this is, just a subjective opinion -- that
there is value in understanding the past and human variation. Without the
skeletons upon which your very persuasive "race" arguments were founded,
we would have ne firm basis upon which to question the social construct of
race. Without further research, we cannot refine that concept. The
peopling of the America's remains a tantalizing puzzle -- the number of
lingusitic groups points alone points to an origianl diversity that we
haven't even begin to understand, and DNA analysis of living groups has
only made this picture more complex.

I think repatriation is a good thing, don't get me wrong. Some Human
remains were literally stolen in the last century and a plethora of sacred
artifacts, as well. Living people have had actual (not extended
metaphorical) grandparents on display in museums, and if they object to
that it is a valid objection and should be dealt with. In the past, I
have helped Choctaw establish both claims to land and remains, and will
continue to do so when it makes sense. Interestingly enough, the Choctae
actually don't want any non-Choctaw remains, and when there is ambiguity
they do not pursue them.

I suspect that the violent reaction for immediate reburial on the part of
some NA's is the worry that the remains will be shown to be "Caucasion"
and thus give racists ammunition against them. I think this is a valid
concern, but racists don't need ammunition other than ignorance.
Reburying Kenniwick man now would only supply more of the latter, making
him a weird sort of martyr for countless Aryans.

--Greg Keyes