Anthropology: The `Kennewick Man Controversy’


The Kennewick Man Controversy is a prime example of disability to resolve an issue in a proper and skillful manner and the all the involved parties, the archaeologists, the US Government and the Umatilla tribe, lacked the understanding of the other party and ultimately lead to a fiasco of legal intervention. The problem took shape when fossils of a man from prehistory were found on July 28, 1996 in Kennewick, Washington, beside the Columbia River. (Egan, 1998) The NAGPRA or the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act indicated that the skeletal remains belonged to one of the regional Native American tribes that include the Colville, Wannapum, Yakama, Umatilla and the Nez Perce. Umatillas became associated with the issue and confronted the researches with court battle claiming the body should be cremated in accordance to their ritual beliefs as they believed the skeletal remains belonged to a person who was from their clan. (Adler, 2005) However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit gave the verdict in 2004 February that there were no evidences that the remains had any association with the Umatillas and the scientific research would be allowed to continue. (Jones, 2005) However, this bitter courtroom battle has its own problem and it indicated that there is a need of proper ethical, legal and moral resolutions that should be taken into consideration during a scientific research.

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Limitations to the scientific research generally include many different considerations. Those considerations are inclusive of the number of respondents or the number of stakeholders involved. Other things that limit a scientific research are in fact are the concerns of other levels of awareness including professionals of various genres that present in the issue. Background information in regard to how the stakeholders learn the particular issue is limited within the scope of the research and because of this, the information gained only brings limited reasoning behind the choices in result. Certainly, another limitation includes the ready acceptance or denial to understand the problem provided in regard to any research project and this was extremely vital in this case that the researchers overlooked (Benedict, 2003).

On the other hand, the aspects related to anthropological research operation is mostly related to ethical and moral or even legal questions. It is also use for determining the behavioral pattern or sensitivity of the subject. This is where the Legal and Ethical Considerations in relation to the issue in research becomes a serious aspect. The contents of these tests should have been done with the proper approval of the native leaders. By this statement it is considered that whether intentionally or not the content prepared by an individual tends to be inclined towards a specific culture whereby the subject appearing for the issue belonging to the same or homogenous culture tends to gain advantage over the subjects belonging to a different culture. As a result, the controversy arises. It was deemed as an act of racial and cultural supremacy or oppression. This is not to suggest that this is done intentionally but the fact is that an individual who is preparing a content or module of research test belong to a specified cultural background and the various aspects of that said cultural background influences the individual and though the subconscious notion these aspects are incorporated within the research (Chatters, 2002).


However, from an ethical point of view it should be noted that a tool relating to social science could hardly be neutral in any sense because it depends too much on the social structure and demands a specific form of socio cultural background dependence for success. Apparently, there are situation when the utilitarian perspective should be taken into consideration that would be more relevant in the context of the given situation. Act Utilitarianism represents all ethical theories where the goal is maximization of some measure of goodness. These are outcome-oriented ethics where goodness is measured by its results. In this case, none of the parties involved was responsible enough to understand this principal. The archeologists were too keen about their research and ignored the social sentiments, the government acted too much in the line of law and the system with measuring the sentiment of the community and the natives reciprocated these approaches with similar spiritual rigidity. This was a fiasco by the archaeologists, the US Government and the Umatilla tribe that could have been easily avoided with little understanding and the proper use of conflict resolution measures.


  1. Adler, Jerry; 2005; “A 9,000-Year-Old Secret;” New York: Newsweek;  2005. Vol. 146, Issue 4; pg 52
  2. Benedict, Jeff; 2003; “No bone unturned: Inside the world of a top forensic scientist and his work on America’s most notorious crimes and disasters“; New York: HarperCollins Publishers
  3. Chatters, James C. 2002; “Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man & the First Americans“; New York: Simon & Schuster
  4. Egan, Timothy; 1998; “Old Skull Gets White Looks, Stirring Dispute”; New York Times; Web.
  5. Jones, Peter N; 2005; “Respect for the Ancestors: American Indian Cultural Affiliation in the American West“; Boulder: Bauu Press
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