9,400-year-old man stays in federal custody

The 9,400-year-old Spirit Cave man is Native American, but may not be returned to any Northern Nevada tribes.

Bureau of Land Management officials said Tuesday that the mummy will remain in federal hands, dashing hopes by Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribal members that the remains would be turned over to them.

"After more than four years of consultation with the tribe, analyzing the information and reviewing policy, I feel it's time to make this determination," said Bob Abbey, Nevada state director for the BLM. "Although this determination is disappointing to the tribes, I am committed to a continuing dialogue with them on this and any other issue that comes up as we continue to determine the affiliation of human remains from BLM-managed lands."

BLM archaeologist Pat Barker said the tribe was informed Tuesday morning before the announcement was made.

"The director met with Alvin Moyle of the Fallon tribe to let them know what the decision was," he said. "We realize this is very, very important to the tribe, we really struggled with making this determination. This is all new territory for us."

Tribal officials couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment.

A request by the museum for DNA testing and radiocarbon dating on the Spirit Cave man and other sets of human remains from the Lahontan Basin was withdrawn in April.

"The Secretary of the Interior is considering recommendations on the disposition of those remains like those from Spirit Cave that cannot be affiliated," Abbey said. "I am keenly aware of the cultural sensitivity of the materials from Spirit Cave and I have no intentions of approving any research that involves invasive testing of the human remains until the Secretary acts."

Barker said the BLM will not permit any invasive scientific procedures until the rules have been set down.

"The state director has made a commitment to the tribe," he said.

The tribe has opposed any invasive research on the remains since it was first proposed in 1996, according to a report posted on the BLM's Web site: www.nv.blm.gov.

In March 1997, the Fallon tribe formally sought the Spirit Cave remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. The Act requires that remains found on public lands be turned over to tribes.

"Since 1990 we've found seven and turned seven over," Barker said. He pointed out that remains found before 1990 are dealt with under the old rules.

There are 145 sets of remains from at least 154 individuals in museum collections. Barker said work is continuing on connecting remains to tribes.

Spirit Cave man has been at the Nevada State Museum for 60 years.

According to the summary, there is no evidence of culture that could be distinguished from other humans living at the same time. There is also no evidence regarding language, social or political organization, or religious beliefs that would lead researchers to a conclusion as to the Spirit Cave man's relationship to his people.

Researchers found that the available evidence showed a significant change in culture over the 10,000 years, perhaps caused by the severe change in environment in Northern Nevada.

You can help

Anyone wishing to comment or dispute the BLM's findings may respond by Oct. 2 with written statements to the State Director, Bureau of Land Management, P.O. Box 12000 Reno, NV 89520-0006. The 150-page report and an executive summary is available on the Internet at www.nv.blm.gov


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