PORTLAND, Ore. -- In a setback to scientists, the U.S. Interior Department decided yesterday that Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America, should be given to five American Indian tribes who have claimed him as an ancestor.
The decision comes after four years of dispute between the tribes and researchers, who hoped to continue studying the 9,000-year-old bones that have already forced anthropologists to rethink theories about where original Americans came from.
In a statement, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said the remains were "culturally affiliated" with the five tribes and were found in the Columbia River shallows near the tribes' aboriginal lands.
"Although ambiguities in the data made this a close call, I was persuaded by the geographic data and oral histories of the five tribes that collectively assert they are the descendants of people who have been in the region of the Upper Columbia Plateau for a very long time," Babbitt said.
However, the fate of the bones may be decided in court.
Eight anthropologists, including one from the Smithsonian Institution, have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Portland for the right to study the bones. The tribes …