The Ancient American Bones at Centre of Two Lawsuits
They may have been dead for more than 9000 years, but the future looks uncertain for two early Americans unearthed in 1976 below the University of California in San Diego.
Members of a local Native American tribe - the Kumeyaay - want to rebury the remains, which they believe are their ancestors. In December, UCSD agreed to hand over the skeletons, but in April three palaeoanthropologists filed a lawsuit against UCSD to keep the remains for research. The Kumeyaay had anticipated the move and filed their own lawsuit days earlier. Last week, the university agreed to a judge’s order to keep the remains in a safe place until a final ruling.
Since 1990, US law has mandated universities to return Native American artefacts and remains to their respective tribes. But UCSD’s scientific advisory board determined that there is no evidence that these two skeletons are related to the Kumeyaay, even though they were discovered on that tribe’s ancestral lands. Isotopic evidence taken from the skeletons suggests they ate seafood - unlike the Kumeyaay’s traditional diet - and the Kumeyaay traditionally cremate their deceased rather than bury them.