Kennewick Man: Science and Sacred Rights
This lesson plan explores the controversy surrounding "Kennewick Man," the name given to a skeleton discovered near Kennewick, Washington, in July 1996. Identified by scientists as approximately 9,000 years old, Kennewick Man was claimed by five Northwestern tribes, who invoked their right under NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, to rebury him in accordance with their religious traditions. When archeologists filed suit to prevent this, arguing that the skeleton is not a tribal ancestor and can shed new light on the earliest inhabitants of North America, Kennewick Man became the center of a debate between science and religion in which both sought the protection of government and the law.
The lesson plan introduces students to this complex, sharply contested controversy in a case study format, gathering documents from both sides to enrich their understanding of ancient and present day Native American cultures, and to encourage reflection on the relationship between science and religion, which have been cast as antagonists over similar issues from Galileo's time to our own.
What are the scientific and religious issues at the center of this case?
How do the religious and scientific issues presented in this case compare to debates over religion and science in history?
What other cultural and legal debates have occurred since the discovery of Kennewick Man?
Examine the discovery of Kennewick Man and what this ancient skeleton suggests about the earliest inhabitants of North America.
Analyze the controversy surrounding Native American efforts to rebury Kennewick Man in accordance with their traditions and federal law.
Evaluate the relationship between science and religion as reflected in their shared concern about human origins.