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American Indian bones closer to returning to earth

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The bones of Native Americans who once farmed in what is now western Arkansas are one step closer to returning to the earth after they were dug out of the ground.

The Ozark-St. Francis National Forest has completed an inventory of 28 sets of human remains and artifacts and determined that they are "culturally affiliated" with current-day tribes, the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and the Osage Nation, the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/V6qJuS ).

That means the bones can be claimed by the tribes and returned under the Native American Grave Repatriation Act, a law signed by George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Since the law took effect, more than 38,600 human remains and nearly 1 million associated funerary objects have been returned to tribes, according to the National Park Service.

In some cases, looters dug up centuries-old burial mounds and carted away the bones. In others, scientists found the gravesites while looking for clues about how American Indians lived and died in the past.

"The Caddo have a long history of being dug up over the years by archaeologists and looters," said Robert Cast, tribal historic preservation officer for the Caddo Nation, a tribe of about 5,000 people that has governmental offices near Binger, Okla.

Archaeologists working with the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests recorded the sexes and probable ages at death of the remains that were recently inventoried, as well as any trauma and disease that the people likely endured, forest spokeswoman Tracy Farley said.

Ozark-St. Francis Forest staff and representatives of 23 different tribes assessed the remains, the newspaper reported.

The Ozark-St. Francis Forest has other remains in its possession, but Farley said she didn't know how many. She said the national forest was "just beginning" a complete inventory of them.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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