Kennewick Man's Thighbone Reappears

In the latest twist in the interminable tale of Kennewick Man, four leg bones that disappeared 4 years ago have apparently resurfaced at the Benton County sheriff's storage facility in Kennewick, Washington. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) promptly took over the bones, which were rediscovered last week at the same time a court case resumed over disposition of the 9300-year-old remains.

The bones, found on the shore of Washington's Columbia River in 1996, have been the object of a long-running tug-of-war between scientists who want to study the bones and Native Americans who want to bury them. Several federal agencies have mediated the dispute, and scientists are hoping that a ruling due soon from U.S. District Judge John Jelderks in Portland, Oregon, will toss the Kennewick find back into their domain.

An inventory taken in 1997 revealed that most of Kennewick's thighbones--two pieces from each femur--were absent. Now they have apparently reappeared as mysteriously as they vanished. Richland anthropologist James Chatters, who studied the bones before the government took them, says workers demolishing an old storage building used by the sheriff found them in the coroner's evidence locker--in a box labeled as containing some other Columbia River bones that had been returned to Indians for burial in 1998.

"I'm utterly baffled," says Chatters, who notes that the FBI ransacked the sheriff's locker in a search for the bones in 1998. So is Michael Trimble, chief curator for the corps, who says, "I haven't a clue" how they turned up again.

Chatters says that the femurs should yield information about racial origins, because the femoral head in American Indians is more highly rotated in relation to the shaft than it is in Europeans. But the U.S. legal system will ultimately decide whether scientists will have another go at them.