The battle over Kennewick Man, one of the most complete skeletons ever found in North America, appears to be over.
Four Northwest tribes seeking to bury the 9,300-year-old bones have announced they will not take their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court after losing in lower federal courts to scientists who want to study the remains, The Oregonian reported in its Friday editions.
The U.S. Justice Department, which earlier had sided with the tribes, declined Thursday to say whether it would file its own appeal to the nation's highest court by a Monday deadline. Seattle attorney Rob Roy Smith, who represents the Colville Tribes, said he assumes the federal agency will not continue with the case.
The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Colville tribes filed a claim to the skeleton shortly after it was found July 31, 1996, in Kennewick, Wash.
However, they faced a quick challenge by scientists who said the skeleton could provide valuable information about the early settling of the Americas.
Smith said the tribes considered at length whether to appeal the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' February ruling in favor of the scientists.
"Even though the tribes strongly disagree with the 9th Circuit's ruling, the tribes have decided not to," said Smith, who argued the tribes' case before the 9th Circuit.
Only the Umatilla tribe held out.
Debra Croswell, a spokeswoman for the Umatilla, said tribal leaders will vote Monday on whether to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, but she said indications "are highly likely that they are not going to pursue it."
Alan L. Schneider, a Portland attorney representing the scientists, said his clients -- eight prominent U.S. anthropologists -- would not immediately be able to study the remains even if the tribes and the Justice Department do not appeal the case.
A study plan will need to be negotiated with the federal agencies overseeing the remains, he said.
"Despite the rulings, the tribes still believe that these remains are of an ancestor and they want to make sure the remains are treated in the most respectable manner possible," Smith said. "And if and when these studies do take place, they want the remains to be returned for reburial."
Kennewick Man is a collection of 380 bones and bone fragments now stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle.