Bones found near Columbia River at least 300 years old

By Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldOctober 5, 2012 

Native American ancestral remains found this summer along the riverbank at the south end of Columbia Point are believed to be more than 300 years old.

The discovery of the human remains was among several issues discussed Thursday during a joint meeting of the Richland City Council and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The groups last met three years ago -- though the intent is to meet annually -- to make sure the Umatillas are aware of what Richland is working on and so city officials know what projects the Umatillas are interested in, said Bill King, Richland's deputy city manager.

During Thursday's meeting, an update on the potential uses for Columbia Point south also included an update on the human remains discovered July 19. No information previously was released about the find.

A woman came across bones sticking out of the riverbank while walking on a trail on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, said Armand Minthorn, of the confederated tribes board.

"The remains ... have been taken care of by the tribes," he said. "The site where the remains came out, as far as we know today, there was only one individual. More than likely, there are other individuals buried in this area."

No artifacts were found with the remains, which were identified by a cultural anthropologist as being female and more than 300 years old, he said.

Corps spokesman Bruce Henrickson said the Corps followed the guidelines of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires them to consult with area tribes when remains are found.

In addition to the Umatillas, the Corps also has contacted the Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Wanapum Band.

The Corps also will publish a legal notice about the bones in the next couple of weeks, Henrickson said.

The remains were uncovered after the riverbank eroded, likely because of high water levels this year, and Minthorn said they are now working with the Corps to devise a plan to protect the site from further erosion.

"We want to thank the city because the police are patrolling this area regularly, and that's a good thing," Minthorn said.

Also Thursday, officials talked about the need to update the Memorandum of Understanding for the coordination of tribal involvement in the city's land use planning process, which was last approved in 1994.

King said city staff will work with tribal staff to get an updated agreement that also includes a clause about economic development.

Other ancient remains have been found along the banks of the river over the years.

Most recently, a human jawbone was found in October in shallow water off Edison Street in Kennewick.

An independent physical anthropologist hired by the Corps determined it was Native American and believed to date to about 150 to 200 years ago.

It was found in the same general area of Columbia Park as the bones of the Kennewick Man skeleton found in July 1996. Scientists concluded that the 9,300-year-old skeleton was buried there.

That discovery sparked a nationwide controversy between Indian tribes and parts of the scientific community after scientists insisted they needed to study such remains if they are ever to understand the earliest inhabitants of North America.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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