KENNEWICK — A work crew leader for Benton County Corrections spotted a human jawbone lying in shallow water in the Columbia River on Monday morning.
The bone is suspected of being Native American, but further study will be needed to confirm that.
It was lying off a small, rocky shore a quarter-mile east of Edison Street in Columbia Park in Kennewick, said Benton County Coroner John Hansens.
"Wow, that is easy to see," he thought when called down to the river, he said. It was about two to three feet from shore under four to five inches of water.
No other bones were found near it in a search by the Kennewick Police Department.
The coroner washed off the single bone that was found, a lower jawbone with six teeth, then took pictures of it next to a ruler to send to Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist in King County.
She determined that it most likely was Native American and, based on the size of the teeth and their wear, that it was the jawbone of an adult, Hansens said. Taylor referred questions to Hansens.
The geologic age of the bone has not been determined.
The jawbone may have been washed down the river by the high waters this year and then showed up as water receded from the shoreline, Hansens said.
The jawbone was found in the same general area of the Columbia River as the bones of the Kennewick Man skeleton found in July 1996. Scientists concluded that the 9,300-year-old skeleton was buried there.
Because the bone found Monday appears to be historic rather than connected to a possible crime, Hansens turned it over Monday to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps, which owns the land where the bone was found, already had contacted the Columbia Plateau Inter-Tribal Repatriation Group by Monday afternoon.
The Corps will follow a series of steps outlined by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, said Corps spokeswoman Gina Baltrusch.
The law calls for it to begin consulting with culturally affiliated Indian tribes if bones are discovered that are not linked to a crime and may potentially be Native American. An anthropologist may be consulted to assess characteristics and provide more information.
Presuming the Corps establishes the remains are Native American, it will attempt to identify cultural affiliation. Then two legal notices will be published giving 30 days for any other claimant to the bones to come forward.
That was the process followed when a human jawbone and two teeth were found by boaters Aug. 22, 2009, on the Columbia River shore north of Richland. That jawbone was found on the bank of the river on the Benton County side under about 2 inches of water.
The Corps hired a University of Idaho anthropologist, who concluded that the mandible and teeth had traits unique to the Native American population. The geologic age of the remains was determined to be 300 to 350 years based on the amount of mineralization on the teeth. The condition and characteristics of the bone also were compared to others from that time period.
The bone was transferred in June 2010 under a joint claim to a group comprised of the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The joint claim also was supported by the Wanapum Band.
All but the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation are part of the Columbia Plateau Inter-Tribal Repatriation Group, which was notified of the jawbone found Monday.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com