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Science and Culture, Term Paper Example

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Term Paper

The discovery of Kennewick Man, a skeleton discovered in the state of Washington, exposed tensions between rights to “cultural property” and rights of scientists to explore. I believe the skeleton should, based on current evidence, be given to scientists for examination against the protestations of the local Indian tribe. There are two reasons for this: 1) The true genetic heritage of Kennewick Man has not been established; 2) The value of such an examination would significantly benefit society.

Under current law, the skeleton would belong to the Umatilla Native American Tribe if a robust genetic link could be established through DNA testing.  After numerous DNA tests, however, the DNA of the skeleton could not be established without doubt (PBS, 2000).  While I am sympathetic to the Umatilla’s claims of ownership, the claim must be backed up with clear evidence.  Even with robust evidence, there is a substantial gray area: For example, if the skeleton turned out to be of “Indian” origin, but of a different geographic region, would the claim still be valid? Rothstein makes a similar point in wondering out loud if antiques that were found in areas belong to the modern auspice of that empire (Rothstein, May 27, 2008).

The law is not exceptionally clear on this point, and thus, the next best criteria to establish ownership would be what benefits could be conferred on society.  Based on this standard, I believe scientists should be given the opportunity to examine and analyze the skeleton. Anthropologists and other social scientists could use the skeleton in order to fill in important holes in the understanding of human history, particularly regarding our (read: human) collective ancestors.  This does not mean that scientists would have “ownership,” but it does mean they would have the rights to fully examine the skeleton.

References

Rothstein, E. (May 27, 2008).  Antiquities: The World is Your Homeland.  New York Times.

PBS (2000). Mystery of First Americans: Kennewick Man.  Available at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/first/.

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