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BJHS: Themes



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This article considers the repatriation of some the most ancient human skeletal remains from the United States as two sorts of ending: their end as objects of scientific study, and their end as ancient non-American Indian settlers of North America. In the 1990s, some prominent physical anthropologists and archaeologists began replacing ‘Palaeoindian’ with the new category of ‘Palaeoamerican’ to characterize the western hemisphere's earliest inhabitants. Kennewick Man/the Ancient One, a nearly nine-thousand-year-old skeleton, convinced some anthropologists that contemporary Native American people (descendants of Palaeoindians) were not biologically related to the very first American colonists. The concept of the Palaeoamerican therefore denied Native American people their long-held status as the original inhabitants of the Americas. New genetic results, however, have contradicted the craniometric interpretations that led to these perceptions, placing the most ancient American skeletons firmly back in the American Indian family tree. This article describes the story of Kennewick Man/the Ancient One, the most famous ‘Palaeoamerican’; explores how repatriation has been a common end for many North American collections (Palaeoindians included); and enumerates what kind of ending repatriation may represent materially and ethically for anthropological science.

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