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Mummy Sequencing Leads to Its Return

After sequencing of a more than 10,000-year-old mummy uncovered in Nevada indicated that the skeleton was more closely related to Native Americans than to any other population, the remains were repatriated to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Nature News reports.

The Spirit Cave Mummy was unearthed in 1940 by archaeologists Georgia and Sydney Wheeler, and, according to Nature News, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe sought repatriation of the remains under the US Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. However, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the cave where the remains were found, declined, it says, leading the tribe to sue. A District Court judge told the agency in 2006 to reconsider its decision.

As an anthropological study of the mummy suggested that its skull structure differed from that of modern Native Americans, BLM sought genetic analysis. After meeting with Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe members, Natural History Museum of Denmark's Eske Willerslev obtained samples from the Spirit Cave Mummy for genomic analysis. His work indicated that the mummy was more closely related to Native Americans than any other groups, prompting the return of the mummy to the tribe, Nature News says.

Some researchers bemoaned the decision as they said the remains could shed light on the peopling of the Americas, though others commended how Willerslev worked with the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Nature News adds.