Sophont
Thursday, June 02, 2005
 
John J. Miller on Archeology on National Review Online
John J. Miller on Archeology on National Review Online: If a lucky paleoanthropologist ever unearths hobbit bones on federal land, scientists won’t get to study them — at least not if Sen. John McCain and his allies have their way........When a team of Australian and Indonesian scientists found the first Homo floresiensis, in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, its members started referring to her as a “hobbit.” The nickname stuck.
How did she get to be so short? And why does John McCain care?

The first question is easy to answer. In biology, there’s a form of natural selection known as “island dwarfing.” Take a species, put it on an island, and watch it shrink over time.....
It also has been documented here in the United States — on the Channel Islands, off the coast of southern California. If hobbit bones were to turn up on Santa Rosa, however, we might never have a chance to learn about them.
That’s because McCain has proposed adding two words to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law Congress passed 15 years ago to defend American Indian burial sites and cultural objects from grave robbers and pot hunters.

..Their boldest attempts to cover up the past have involved Kennewick Man, a set of bones discovered in 1996 near Kennewick, Wash. The remains are more than 9,000 years old, and physical anthropologists find them intriguing because their morphology is said to differ significantly from that of North American Indians. Kennewick Man may be more closely related to the Ainu, an ethnic group indigenous to Japan, than to any modern Indian tribe. If true, it would mean that the story of human migration is much more complicated (and fascinating) than we have realized.

The only way to learn more, of course, is to let scientists take a close look at old bones. Several local tribes, however, invoked NAGPRA and demanded that Kennewick Man be turned over to them on the grounds that they were “affiliated,” as if any living person can claim a genuine “affiliation” with someone who died nine millennia ago. Their stated intention was not to examine Kennewick Man, but to rebury him

.....“If this becomes law, then anything prehistoric that’s found on federal land would have to be given up,” says Alan Schneider, a Portland, Ore., lawyer who has litigated the Kennewick Man case.

By this new NAGPRA definition, even the bones of Adam and Eve would be classified as “Native American.”

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