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Date: Tue, 10 Mar 1998 23:51:58 -0500
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Subject: 9,200-Year-Old Bones May Be Missing
Date: Tue, 10 Mar 1998 22:58:22 EST

9,200-Year-Old Bones May Be Missing

By Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press, [10 March 1998]

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday that bone fragments from a 9,200-year-old skeleton were missing and that a federal judge deciding who can study the controversial bones has been notified.

The corps also said in a news release that it knew in 1996 that the fragments were missing, but at the time, felt that the loss was unimportant.

Tuesday's revelations from the corps were the latest twist in the saga of the skeleton, dubbed Kennewick Man, whose bones some scientists believe may be the earliest evidence of Caucasian humans in North America.

Corps spokesman Dutch Meier said several bone fragments from both femur, or upper leg bones, are missing.

The corps has advised a federal judge in Oregon of the missing fragments because the bones are the subject of a lawsuit over whether they can be studied. The corps and the Justice Department were investigating, Meier said.

In late February, a corps researcher compared a November 1997 corps inventory of the bones with an inventory provided in 1996 by James Chatters, a private archaeologist who originally studied the bones before they were confiscated by the government.

Chatters had turned over his notes and photographs of the bones, showing the femur fragments, to the corps on Sept. 5, 1996, the corps said.

When the corps opened the sealed container five days later, a representative of the Umatilla Indian tribe noticed that the femur fragments described in Chatters' notes were not in the box of remains, the corps said.

Since the skeleton was nearly complete, the absence of the fragments of the femur bones was not considered significant then, the corps said.

Then, in November 1997, the corps' own archaeologist inventoried the bones. Last month, a corps researcher compared the original Chatters inventory with the 1997 inventory and discovered the loss, the corps said.

Chatters did not return a telephone message left at his home on Tuesday night.

But attorney Michael Clinton, who represents members of a pagan religion who claim the bones may belong to an ancestor, said the loss is evidence of continued corps incompetence.

Jim Chatters is the most honest individual you could ever meet, Clinton said. What they are trying to do is lay their ineptness and mishandling of the remains on Jim Chatters' doorstep.

The skeleton was found in July 1996 in a park along the Columbia River in the eastern Washington city of Kennewick. Because they were found on federal land, the corps confiscated the bones and is storing them at a laboratory in nearby Richland.

Eight scientists are suing the corps for the right to study the remains, which they believe could reveal much about how people first came to North America. Chatters has contended his brief study of the bones found indications that they had Caucasian features.

Representatives of area Indian tribes contend the bones belong to an ancestor and should be returned under a 1990 federal graves protection law.

The Asatru Folk Assembly, a California-based church whose members follow pre- Christian European religions, contend Kennewick Man may be one of their ancestors and have filed a separate lawsuit seeking further study of the bones.

The bones remain off-limits and stored in a vault while a federal judge tries to sort out what should be done with them.

The corps has already been criticized for allowing area Indian tribes to hold religious ceremonies with the bones, and for allowing some potentially damaging moisture from plant fragments to contact the bones.