Researchers, Tribes Clash over Native Bones

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BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - On a bluff overlooking a sweep of Southern California beach, scientists in 1976 unearthed what were among the oldest skeletal remains ever found in the Western Hemisphere.

Researchers would come to herald the bones - dating back nearly 10,000 years - as a potential treasure trove for understanding the earliest human history of the continental United States. But a local tribal group called the Kumeyaay Nation claimed that the bones, representing at least two people, were their ancestors and demanded them back several years ago.

For decades, fights like this over the provenance and treatment of human bones have played out across the nation. Yet new federal protections could mean that the vast majority of the remains of an estimated 160,000 Native Americans held by universities, museums and federal government agencies, including those sought by the Kumeyaay, may soon be transferred to tribes.

A recent federal regulation addresses what should happen to any remains that cannot be positively traced to the ancestors of modern-day tribes. Museums and agencies are required to notify tribes whose current or ancestral lands harbored the remains, then the tribe is entitled to have them back....

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