A federal court judge in San Francisco granted a temporary restraining order Friday to prevent the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), from handing over 9000-year-old human bones to Native Americans, in the latest twist in an unusual custody battle for two human skeletons that are among the earliest found in the Americas...The ethics are complicated; I'm not offering an answer - just presenting the problem for consideration.
The professors, anthropologist Margaret Schoeninger of UCSD, paleo-anthropologist Robert Bettinger of UC Davis, and paleoanthropologist Tim White of UC Berkeley, filed the lawsuit to block the repatriation, saying that there is no evidence that these bones are related to the Kumeyaay, and in fact, the evidence suggests otherwise. The scientific advisory committee found that the Kumeyaay language moved into the region 2000 years ago, and that the Kumeyaay traditionally cremated their dead rather than burying them. Moreover, Schoeninger's lab's analysis of stable isotopes from samples of the skeletons indicated that they ate a diet of marine mammals and offshore fish—a coastal adaptation that contrasts with the desert origins of the Kumeyaay. Anthropologists who study the bones and DNA of Paleoindians also agree that the remains are probably too old to have any affiliation, cultural or otherwise, with tribes living in southern California today.
Photo credit: Jan Austin/Santa Monica Community College.