Sunday, April 03, 2005

Dem Bones

An upcoming piece of legislation about what counts, legally, as Native American remains may have serious implications for archaeological research in the U.S.

The previous legislation on this subject has asserted that existing tribes have a claim to the remains of their members, and that archaeologists have to turn over the remains they find to the appropriate tribe rather than keeping them for study. This seems pretty sensible; most people wouldn't be that psyched to let archaeologists exhume Great Aunt Agnes for the sake of scientific knowledge. The modified legislation, however, will apply to much older remains which aren't obviously the remains of an existing tribe -- the presumption will be that they belong to some tribe rather than being legitimate objects of scientific study. Indeed, some suggest the new version is actually part of a creationist plot to destroy evidence.

So, where does one draw the line here between respect for the dead and the value of scientific study of such remains?


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