Archaeologists curious about American Indian cultures dug up human remains and funerary objects at Canyon de Chelly decades ago, some of which were taken for protection from erosion in the canyon with towering red, sandstone walls.
The Navajo Nation wanted the Park Service to return the items immediately for proper burial. The tribe said it never allowed the agency or any other entity to carry off remains or cultural objects from the place it calls "tsegi" or "within the rock" because that would have contradicted traditional Navajo laws and violated the rights of tribal members.
The Park Service has said it plans to return the items but first must determine which tribe or tribes are their rightful owners. Possible candidates include the Navajo, Zuni Pueblo, Hopi, Apaches or Utes, officials said.
Canyon de Chelly has been inhabited for thousands of years, with artifacts and cliff dwellings lining the canyon walls dating from the 4th to the 14th centuries.