Federal archaeologists are investigating a very old jawbone that turned up Monday along the Columbia River in Kennewick.
The human remains were found a short distance from where Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996. Those ancient remains sparked a decade of legal conflict.
The jawbone with six worn teeth was spotted in shallow water by a jail work crew doing routine park cleanup. Kennewick police and the Benton County, Washington, coroner quickly determined that the bone is that of an adult human, but is too old to connect to a modern crime. Archaeologists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land, took jurisdiction.
Army Corps spokeswoman Gina Baltrusch says it is pure “speculation” to connect the single bone to any era or people at this point.
“Basically, too soon to know. We’ll follow the law. And we’re treating these remains with respect,” Baltrusch says.
A retired archaeologist who investigated the ancient Kennewick Man fears the Army Corps will quickly turn the bone over to a local tribe for reburial without sufficient study. Tribal leaders argue strenuously that their spiritual traditions demand such remains be put back to rest as soon as possible.