Ancient Bones Won't Be Reburied Until California Lawsuit Settled

Officials at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), have agreed to prevent the reburial of two 9000‑year‑old skeletons until the settlement of a federal lawsuit against the University of California (UC) by three professors.

In anticipation of a court hearing that was to be held on 11 May in federal court in San Francisco, UCSD officials agreed to keep the skeletons in a safe place until the case is settled rather than hand them over to American Indians for reburial. Judge Richard Seeborg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California signed an injunction on 7 May to extend a temporary restraining order against the transfer he granted on 27 April, at the request of three UC professors who want to keep the remains accessible for scientific study.

The skeletons were discovered in 2006 during excavation at the University House (the traditional home of the UCSD chancellor) and have been the subject of a legal battle ever since. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, museums and other institutions must repatriate remains and artifacts that can be traced to a tribe. The Kumeyaay tribes of San Diego have sought the skeletons for reburial because they say they were found on their ancestral tribal lands. The tribes filed a lawsuit on 13 April to recover the skeletons.

Three university professors, however, filed their own lawsuit on 27 April to block the transfer, saying that there is no evidence that these bones are related to the Kumeyaay tribes. A scientific advisory committee to UCSD found that the Kumeyaay language moved into the region just 2000 years ago and that the Kumeyaay traditionally cremated their dead rather than burying them. The researchers argue that the ancient bones are important for scientific analysis, particularly because new methods are being developed to extract and study ancient DNA and to analyze the diet and lifestyles of ancient people. The bones also could shed light on the identities of some of the earliest humans to settle in North America.