November 24, 2009

Repatriate La Brea Woman?

The skeleton that the Page Museum doesn't want you to seeFor years, the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles has housed a 9,000-year-old set of bones that is said to be the only human remains recovered from the Rancho La Brea area, which is famous for its prehistorical tar pits. A cast of the skull was on display at the museum for a period but the museum withdrew it from exhibition about five years ago and placed it in storage along with the original bones.

Skull Now, a former volunteer at the museum has published images of a facial reconstruction of the specimen against the museum's wishes. She claims that the museum is scared that her reconstruction, in which the specimen is depicted as having Native American features, will encourage tribes to reclaim the bones for reburial.

"Obviously they're not completely happy about it," said Melissa Cooper, the former volunteer in question, when asked about going public with her work. She said that the museum won't display her images out of fear that the Chumash, a Native American tribe, will attempt to take the bones away.
Comment:  It seems odd to think of giving up the only human bones ever found in the La Brea Tar Pits. But do they have any scientific value left? If researches scan them and create a 3D model of them, extract whatever DNA and protein samples they may hold, do they need the actual bones anymore?

P.S. The Page Museum is 10-12 miles from my home. I haven't been in it in years, but I pass it occasionally on the way to somewhere else.

For a related issue, see Kennewick Man, Captain Picard, and Political Correctness.

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