In the fall of 1996, anthropologist Richard Jantz e-mailed fellow scientists with a plea to help save history.
The University of Tennessee professor urged colleagues to challenge the federal decision to give the 9,300-year-old remains that became known as Kennewick Man to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla for burial. In Jantz's view, the Army Corps of Engineers was about to slam shut a critical window into America's past.
In Seattle, archaeologist Julie Stein read the e-mail with disdain. She had had enough of the ham-handed handling of the unusual case of the remains found on the shores of the Columbia River in southeastern Washington. Then-curator of the Burke Museum of Natural History, Stein had spent 14 years studying Washington archaeology and building relationships with local tribes.
She fired back, chiding Jantz for the effort and alleging the Benton County coroner's local consulting anthropologist, who collected the remains, had attempted to mislead the tribes and the corps by saying they belonged to a recent European settler. She also noted hand bones were submitted for carbon-dating without proper consultation with tribes.
"This is an example of why every tribe in the United States should mistrust and detest archaeologists," she said. "This write-in campagne (sic) of yours is targeted toward the wrong individual.
"Disgustedly yours, ... " she concluded.
Gentle, mild-mannered archaeologists all. . . .
Read the whole thing. It's only partly about the Kennewick case. This part is probably the most important as far as the Kennewick blowup is concerned:
Jantz and the other plaintiffs would not have brought their lawsuit — and prevailed in federal court — if the Corps of Engineers had followed the repatriation law. Corps officials almost immediately decided to return the Kennewick Man remains to the tribe without establishing affiliation with modern tribes, as required by the law.
The Corps botched it horribly by trying to repatriate far too quickly. Still, in the end it got the law resolved to a certain extent.