As hats go, it's not the most stylish. It's more like an old straw gardening hat you might find flattened in garage clutter. But considering it came off a man who died in a remote glacier hundreds -- if not thousands -- of years ago, the hat has an elegance that transcends the ages.
"It's beautifully made," said Diane Strand, a heritage-resource officer for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, a tribe in northern British Columbia. "Not just finely made. It's gorgeous."
The hat, a collection of tools and the remains of the adult male called Kwaday Dan Sinchi, the southern Tutchone word for "long-ago person found," stand as one of the most unique archaeological finds in North America. Hunters stumbled upon the remains in a northwestern B.C. glacier, not far from the Yukon and Alaska borders on Aug. 14.
Provincial and tribal representatives have announced a framework in which they hope to learn the most from the discovery while attempting to respect the traditions of his descendants. The effort is in marked contrast to the furor surrounding Washington's Kennewick Man, a skeleton thought to be about 9,000 years old. Three years after the skeleton was found, its fate is still being debated among the U.S. government, tribal groups and scientists.
In the next three months, the Canadian government and tribal groups will set up a scientific advisory panel that will then have three months to evaluate research proposals for the remains and artifacts. Using a walk-in freezer and laboratory at the Royal British Columbia Museum here as a base, it aims to do a complete scientific inquiry on the remains and then return them to descendants for burial by the end of next year.
"We don't think it's necessary to have human remains in museums," said Ian Waddell, minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture. "What we need to do is get the information they provide us."
Officials will not let journalists view the remains and refuse to discuss their condition other than to say they are largely intact. Strand confirmed that the body's head has not been found, although researchers intend to keep searching the site.
The shape of the Kennewick Man's head fueled much of the controversy of his discovery; some have speculated he may have a different ethnic origin than local Indians, challenging their belief they are the region's original settlers. Tribal leaders in British Columbia for now are ignoring the prospect that Kwaday Dan Sinchi might challenge theories of how and when the area was settled.
"That'll have to be dealt with when we get to it," said Champagne Aishihik Chief Bob Charlie.
Strand, who said she supports Washington and Oregon tribes' decision to fight further study of Kennewick Man, echoed a statement often heard in the debate over his destiny. "Oral history tells us that we've been here since time immemorial," she said. "It's hard to put 'what ifs' in there."
Charlie and Strand acknowledged that the decision to permit study of the B.C. remains was not unanimously endorsed by tribal members.
"I won't beat around the bush," Strand said. "You have one-third of the people saying, 'Bury him,' one-third of the people saying, 'You're doing the right thing,' and the other one-third saying, 'We don't know.' But the goal is learning and educating."
If Kwaday Dan Sinchi isn't related to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, officials will attempt to learn his affiliation and return his remains to his descendants, said Charlie.
Tests of Kwaday Dan Sinchi's hat and cape are due at the end of the month. His age could be a non-issue. "I'd be surprised if it was more than a few thousand years old," said Al Mackie, project officer for the culture ministry's archaeology branch. He said the find is remarkable because it includes intact remains and artifacts that usually are consumed by the acidic soils of inland British Columbia.
Preliminary evidence indicated the remains were those of a man who died from a fall into a glacier crevasse. Because of the ice, the victim's soft tissue, such as skin and muscles, were preserved.
These remains were almost lost to the ages as well. While they were only poking out of the receding glacier when they were found, they were almost fully exposed when researchers reached the site by helicopter eight days later.
"A couple of days further along and it would be a different story that we'd be telling today," said Owen Beattie, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Alberta, Edmonton.
The research should give scientists insight into his cultural associations, his biology, the microorganisms on his body and in his food, the botany of the area, the effects of freezing on human tissue, his genetics, his health and the way he died, Beattie said.