The 9,000-year-old remains known as Kennewick Man should be made available for scientific study, according to a federal court ruling. On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of researchers who sued to stop a group of Native American tribes from burying the skeleton, which they claim as their ancestor.

The bones, including a skull, were found on the bank of the Columbia River by two teenagers in 1996, near the town of Kennewick, Wash. After dating the remains to between 8,340 and 9,200 years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the land where the discovery was made, initially turned them over to Native American tribes in the Northwest, who did not want any further testing performed on them. Eight anthropologists then sued to gain access to the remains, claiming that the decision did not follow federal law. Judge John Jelderks agreed, ruling that in order to be eligible under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)--which aims to return museum artifacts to Native American tribes--Kennewick Man must have "a relationship to a presently existing tribe, people, or culture." But because "Kennewick Man's culture is unknown and apparently unknowable," the tribes' request to repatriate the remains was denied. The four tribes--the Colville, the Umatilla, the Yakama and the Nez Perce--appealed the August 2002 decision.

With Wednesdays ruling, the three-judge Appeals Court panel upheld the decision to allow scientists to study Kennewick Man. The researchers contend that analysis of the remains will help answer questions about how humans came to populate North America. The tribes can still challenge the decision within 45 days, however. Thus, for now, Kennewick Man will remain in the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, his home for the past six years while the courts have been determining his fate.