An ancient mummy at the heart of a dispute
between modern science and Native American culture is not
affiliated with any contemporary tribe or group, the Bureau of Land
Management said Tuesday.
“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,” state BLM Director Bob Abbey said in a written statement.
The partial, mummified remains were found by archaeologists 60 years ago in Spirit Cave, in the Grimes Point area about 13 miles east of Fallon. It has been housed at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City for much of the time since then.
Anthropologists and scientists say more study of the 10,000-year-old Spirit Cave Man would provide valuable insight into what the first inhabitants of North America were like.
Wanted for Burial But the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe claims the man is their ancestor and they want him returned for burial as outlined under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act.
The act requires federal agencies to determine if remains found on public lands are ancestral to any modern-day tribes. If so, they are to be returned for burial.
But the BLM said there is no cultural, biological or physical evidence to show Spirit Cave Man was an ancestor of the Paiute tribe.
“There is no geographic evidence indicating how long the Northern Paiute have occupied the Spirit Cave area prior to European contact in the early 1800s and none indicating who, if anyone, lived there at any earlier time,” the agency said in a report released Tuesday.
It concluded that the remains “predate contemporary Northern Paiute tribes and cannot reasonably be culturally affiliated with any of them.”
The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
No Mummy Studies Yet But Abbey said the agency’s preliminary determination doesn’t mean the mummy will be subjected to scientific testing in the immediate future.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is reviewing recommendations on how remains that cannot be traced to a particular culture should be handled, he said.
“I am keenly aware of the cultural sensitivity of the materials from Spirit Cave and I have no intention of approving any research that involves invasive testing of the human remains until the secretary acts,” Abbey said.
Abbey said anyone disputing the BLM’s preliminary finding can do so in writing until Oct. 2.