Science  06 Sep 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5587, pp. 1625
  1. Anthropologists Win on Kennewick

    A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government must allow scientists to study the bones of Kennewick Man, an ancient skeleton unearthed on the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. The 30 August decision marks a clear victory for a team of eight anthropologists who have fought to gain access to the 9300-year-old skeleton, arguing that it could offer new clues to how people first arrived in America. But the ruling might not end the 6-year legal tussle, as the Justice Department can still appeal the decision.

    Kennewick Man, known as “the ancient One” to Native Americans, was discovered in 1996. The 380 bones and bone fragments compose one of the most nearly complete sets of ancient remains ever found in North America. Government researchers completed an initial analysis of the skeleton in 1998. But it was placed out of scientific bounds 2 years ago, when then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt ruled that a 1990 law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act required the skeleton to be given to the five modern Native American tribes that claimed him as an ancestor and sought to have him reburied (Science, 29 September 2000, p. 2257).


    In his 73-page ruling, U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks of Portland, Oregon, called Babbitt's decision “arbitrary and capricious.” After reviewing some 22,000 pages of documents, Jelderks ruled that there was insufficient evidence to link the skeleton to any modern tribe. “Allowing study is fully consistent with applicable statutes and regulations, which are clearly intended to make archaeological information available to the public through scientific research,” Jelderks wrote. Plaintiff attorney Alan Schneider calls the decision a “landmark” because it sets an important precedent that should give researchers access to future discoveries of ancient remains.

    “We are delighted with the decision,” says Robson Bonnichsen, who heads the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University in College Station and was a plaintiff in the case. He says researchers hope to carry out a wide variety of tests on the skeleton, including skull measurements and possibly DNA tests, to pinpoint the origin of the bones. The ruling gives the researchers 45 days to submit a study proposal to the Department of the Interior and another 45 days for the government to respond.

  2. Banking on Stem Cells

    The United Kingdom's plans for a stem cell bank are expected to take concrete shape next week. The Medical Research Council (MRC), which will oversee the cell repository, will announce details of the bank's location and operation at an 11 September symposium in London.

    According to a plan strongly endorsed last February by a House of Lords special committee on stem cell research, the bank will hold both embryonic and adult stem cell lines and distribute them to academic scientists in the United Kingdom and abroad. Any new human embryonic stem cell lines derived in Britain must be deposited in the bank.

    The planned announcement made headlines in the United Kingdom last week as several newspapers questioned the meeting's timing on the anniversary of last year's terrorist attacks, charging that MRC hoped any potential controversy stirred by the meeting would go unnoticed. But an MRC spokesperson says the date was chosen for logistical reasons—and noted that both the press and opponents of stem cell research have been invited.

  3. Splitting Cells

    Australia's quest for national legislation regulating human embryonic stem cell research has hit another speed bump. The House of Representatives last week voted to split the proposed legislation (Science, 30 August, p. 1461) into two bills—passing one that bans human cloning for reproduction but delaying a vote on the other, which allows researchers to use and derive certain human stem cell lines for research. Lawmakers are expected to revisit the issue later this year, but researchers worry that opponents of stem cell research will use the time to organize.

    Prime Minister John Howard, meanwhile, has ordered a review of the government's $25 million commitment to a new stem cell research center in the wake of a controversy sparked by researcher Alan Trounson of the Monash Institute of Reproduction in Melbourne. Trounson, head of the new Center for Stem Cells and Tissue Repair, admitted to misrepresenting a video of a crippled rat he showed to Parliamentarians. He claimed that the rat had regained partial muscle function after being treated using rat stem cells; in fact, researchers had used other kinds of human fetal tissue. Howard said he was “disturbed” by the incident, but he supports stem cell research.

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