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Kennewick Man, Captain Picard, and Political Correctness

Another response to Kennewick Man, Captain Picard, and Political Correctness:

Who Were The First Americans?

They may have been a lot like Kennewick Man, whose hotly disputed bones are helping rewrite our earliest history. An exclusive inside look


Mar. 13, 2006

It was clear from the moment Jim Chatters first saw the partial skeleton that no crime had been committed—none recent enough to be prosecutable, anyway. Chatters, a forensic anthropologist, had been called in by the coroner of Benton County, Wash., to consult on some bones found by two college students on the banks of the Columbia River, near the town of Kennewick. The bones were obviously old, and when the coroner asked for an opinion, Chatters' off-the-cuff guess, based on the skull's superficially Caucasoid features, was that they probably belonged to a settler from the late 1800s. • Then a CT scan revealed a stone spear point embedded in the skeleton's pelvis, so Chatters sent a bit of finger bone off to the University of California at Riverside for radiocarbon dating. When the results came back, it was clear that his estimate was dramatically off the mark. The bones weren't 100 or even 1,000 years old. They belonged to a man who had walked the banks of the Columbia more than 9,000 years ago.

In short, the remains that came to be known as Kennewick Man were almost twice as old as the celebrated Iceman discovered in 1991 in an Alpine glacier, and among the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in the Americas. Plenty of archaeological sites date back that far, or nearly so, but scientists have found only about 50 skeletons of such antiquity, most of them fragmentary. Any new find can thus add crucial insight into the ongoing mystery of who first colonized the New World—the last corner of the globe to be populated by humans. Kennewick Man could cast some much needed light on the murky questions of when that epochal migration took place, where the first Americans originally came from and how they got here.

U.S. government researchers examined the bones, but it would take almost a decade for independent scientists to get a good look at the skeleton. Although it was found in the summer of 1996, the local Umatilla Indians and four other Columbia Basin tribes almost immediately claimed it as ancestral remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (see box), demanding that the skeleton be reburied without the desecration of scientific study. A group of researchers sued, starting a legal tug-of-war and negotiations that ended only last summer, with the scientists getting their first extensive access to the bones. And now, for the first time, we know the results of that examination.


It was clearly worth the wait. The scientific team that examined the skeleton was led by forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. He has worked with thousands of historic and prehistoric skeletons, including those of Jamestown colonists, Plains Indians and Civil War soldiers. He helped identify remains from the Branch Davidian compound in Texas, the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and mass graves in Croatia.

In this case, Owsley and his team were able to nail down or make strong guesses about Kennewick Man's physical attributes. He stood about 5 ft. 9 in. tall and was fairly muscular. He was clearly right-handed: the bones of the right arm are markedly larger than those of the left. In fact, says Owsley, "the bones are so robust that they're bent," the result, he speculates, of muscles built up during a lifetime of hunting and spear fishing.

An examination of the joints showed that Kennewick Man had arthritis in the right elbow, both knees and several vertebrae but that it wasn't severe enough to be crippling. He had suffered plenty of trauma as well. "One rib was fractured and healed," says Owsley, "and there is a depression fracture on his forehead and a similar indentation on the left side of the head." None of those fractures were fatal, though, and neither was the spear jab. "The injury looks healed," says Owsley. "It wasn't a weeping abscess." Previous estimates had Kennewick Man's age as 45 to 55 when he died, but Owsley thinks he may have been as young as 38. Nothing in the bones reveals what caused his demise.

But that's just the beginning of an impressive catalog of information that the scientists have added to what was already known—all the more impressive given the limitations placed on the team by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the skeleton because the Corps has jurisdiction over the federal land on which it was found. The researchers had to do nearly all their work at the University of Washington's Burke Museum, where Kennewick Man has been housed in a locked room since 1998, under the watchful eyes of representatives of both the Corps and the museum, and according to a strict schedule that had to be submitted in advance. "We only had 10 days to do everything we wanted to do," says Owsley. "It was like a choreographed dance."

Perhaps the most remarkable discovery: Kennewick Man had been buried deliberately. By looking at concentrations of calcium carbonate left behind as underground water collected on the underside of the bones and then evaporated, scientists can tell that he was lying on his back with his feet rolled slightly outward and his arms at his side, the palms facing down—a position that could hardly have come about by accident. And there was no evidence that animal scavengers had been at the body.

The researchers could also tell that Kennewick Man had been buried parallel to the Columbia, with his left side toward the water: the bones were abraded on that side by water that eroded the bank and eventually dumped him out. It probably happened no more than six months before he was discovered, says team member Thomas Stafford, a research geochemist based in Lafayette, Colo. "It wouldn't have been as much as a year," he says. "The bones would have been more widely dispersed."

The deliberate burial makes it especially frustrating for scientists that the Corps in 1998 dumped hundreds of tons of boulders, dirt and sand on the discovery site—officially as part of a project to combat erosion along the Columbia River, although some scientists suspect it was also to avoid further conflict with the local tribes. Kennewick Man's actual burial pit had already been washed away by the time Stafford visited the site in December 1997, but a careful survey might have turned up artifacts that could have been buried with him. And if his was part of a larger burial plot, there's now no way for archaeologists to locate any contemporaries who might have been interred close by.

Still, the bones have more secrets to reveal. They were never fossilized, and a careful analysis of their carbon and nitrogen composition, yet to be performed, should reveal plenty about Kennewick Man's diet. Says Stafford: "We can tell if he ate nothing but plants, predominantly meat or a mixture of the two." The researchers may be able to determine whether he preferred meat or fish. It's even possible that DNA could be extracted and analyzed someday.

While the Corps insisted that most of the bones remain in the museum, it allowed the researchers to send the skull fragments and the right hip, along with its embedded spear point, to a lab in Lincolnshire, Ill., for ultrahigh-resolution CT scanning. The process produced virtual slices just 0.39 mm (about 0.02 in.) thick—"much more detailed than the ones made of King Tut's mummy," says Owsley. The slices were then digitally recombined into 3-D computer images that were used to make exact copies out of plastic. The replica of the skull has already enabled scientists to clear up a popular misconception that dates back to the initial reports of the discovery.


Thanks to Chatters' mention of Caucasoid features back in 1996, the myth that Kennewick Man might have been European never quite died out. The reconstructed skull confirms that he was not—and Chatters never seriously thought otherwise. "I tried my damnedest to curtail that business about Caucasians in America early," he says. "I'm not talking about today's Caucasians. I'm saying they had 'Caucasoid-like' characteristics. There's a big difference." Says Owsley: "[Kennewick Man] is not North American looking, and he's not tied in to Siberian or Northeast Asian populations. He looks more Polynesian or more like the Ainu [an ethnic group that is now found only in northern Japan but in prehistoric times lived throughout coastal areas of eastern Asia] or southern Asians."

That assessment will be tested more rigorously when researchers compare Kennewick Man's skull with databases of several thousand other skulls, both modern and ancient. But provisionally, at least, the evidence fits in with a revolutionary new picture that over the past decade has utterly transformed anthropologists' long-held theories about the colonization of the Americas.


The conventional answer to that question dates to the early 1930s, when stone projectile points that were nearly identical began to turn up at sites across the American Southwest. They suggested a single cultural tradition that was christened Clovis, after an 11,000-year-old-plus site near Clovis, N.M. And because no older sites were known to exist in the Americas, scientists assumed that the Clovis people were the first to arrive. They came, according to the theory, no more than 12,000 years B.P. (before the present), walking across the dry land that connected modern Russia and Alaska at the end of the last ice age, when sea level was hundreds of feet lower than it is today. From there, the earliest immigrants would have made their way south through an ice-free corridor that geologists know cut through what are now the Yukon and Mackenzie river valleys, then along the eastern flank of the Canadian Rockies to the continental U.S. and on to Latin America.

That's the story textbooks told for decades—and it's almost certainly wrong. The first cracks in the theory began appearing in the 1980s, when archaeologists discovered sites in both North and South America that seemed to predate the Clovis culture. Then came genetic and linguistic analyses suggesting that Asian and Native American populations diverged not 12,000 years ago but closer to 30,000 years ago. Studies of ancient skulls hinted that the earliest Americans in South America had different ancestors from those in the North. Finally, it began to be clear that artifacts from Northeast Asia dating from just before the Clovis period and South American artifacts of comparable age didn't have much in common with Clovis artifacts.

Those discoveries led to all sorts of competing theories, but few archaeologists or anthropologists took them seriously until 1997. In that year, a blue-ribbon panel of researchers took a hard look at evidence presented by Tom Dillehay, then at the University of Kentucky, from a site he had been excavating in Monte Verde, Chile. After years of skepticism, the panel finally affirmed his claim that the site proved humans had lived there 12,500 years ago. "Monte Verde was the turning point," says David Meltzer, a professor of prehistory at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who was on the panel. "It broke the Clovis barrier."

Why? Because if people were living in southern Chile 12,500 years ago, they must have crossed over from Asia considerably earlier, and that means they couldn't have used the ice-free inland corridor; it didn't yet exist. "You could walk to Fairbanks," says Meltzer. "It was getting south from Fairbanks that was a problem." Instead, many scientists now believe, the earliest Americans traveled down the Pacific coast—possibly even using boats. The idea has been around for a long time, but few took it seriously before Monte Verde.

One who did was Jon Erlandson, an archaeologist at the University of Oregon, whose work in Daisy Cave on San Miguel Island in California's Channel Island chain uncovered stone cutting tools that date to about 10,500 years B.P., proving that people were traveling across the water at least that early. More recently, researchers at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History redated the skeletal remains of an individual dubbed Arlington Springs Woman, found on another of the Channel Islands, pushing her age back to about 11,000 years B.P. Farther south, on Cedros Island off the coast of Baja California, U.C. at Riverside researchers found shell middens—heaps of kitchen waste, essentially—and other materials that date back to the same period as Daisy Cave. Down in the Andes, researchers have found coastal sites with shell middens dating to about 10,500 years B.P.

And in a discovery that offers a sharp contrast to the political hoopla over Kennewick Man, scientists and local Tlingit and Haida tribes cooperated so that researchers could study skeletal remains found in On Your Knees Cave on Prince of Wales Island in southern Alaska. "There's no controversy," says Erlandson, who has investigated cave sites in the same region. "It hardly ever hits the papers." Of about the same vintage as Kennewick Man and found at around the same time, the Alaskan bones, along with other artifacts in the area, lend strong support to the coastal-migration theory. "Isotopic analysis of the human remains," says James Dixon, the University of Colorado at Boulder anthropologist who found them, "demonstrates that the individual—a young male in his early 20s—was raised primarily on a diet of seafood."


Erlandson has found one more line of evidence that supports the migration theory. While working with a group of marine ecologists, he was startled to learn that there were nearly continuous kelp forests growing just offshore all the way from Japan in the western Pacific to Alaska and down the West Coast to Baja California, then (with a gap in the tropics) off the coast of South America. In a paper presented three weeks ago, he outlined the potential importance to the earliest Americans of what he calls the "kelp highway."

"Most of the early sites on the west coast are found adjacent to kelp forests, even in Peru and Chile," he says. "The thing about kelp forests is they're extremely productive." They not only provide abundant food, from fish, shellfish, seals and otters that thrive there, but they also reduce wave energy, making it easier to navigate offshore waters. By contrast, the inland route along the ice-free corridor would have presented travelers with enormous ecological variability, forcing them to adapt to new conditions and food sources as they traveled.

Unfortunately, the strongest evidence for the coastal theory lies offshore, where ancient settlements would have been submerged by rising seas over the past 10,000 years or so. "Artifacts have been found on the continental shelves," says Dixon, "so I'm quite confident there's material out there." But you need submersible craft to search, and, he says, that type of research is a very hard sell to the people who own and operate that kind of equipment. "The maritime community is interested in shipwrecks and treasures. A little bit of charcoal and some rocks on the ocean floor is not very exciting to them."


Even if the earliest Americans traveled down the coast, that doesn't mean they couldn't have come through the interior as well. Could there have been multiple waves of migration along a variety of different routes? One way scientists have tried to get a handle on that question is through genetics. Their studies have focused on two different types of evidence extracted from the cells of modern Native Americans: mitochondrial DNA, which resides outside the nuclei of cells and is passed down only through the mother; and the Y chromosome, which is passed down only from father to son. Since DNA changes subtly over the generations, it serves as a sort of molecular clock, and by measuring differences between populations, you can gauge when they were part of the same group.

Or at least you can try. Those molecular clocks are still rather crude. "The mitochondrial DNA signals a migration up to 30,000 years ago," says research geneticist Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona. "But the Y suggests that it occurred within the last 20,000 years." That's quite a discrepancy. Nevertheless, Hammer believes that the evidence is consistent with a single pulse of migration.

Theodore Schurr, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology, thinks there could have been many migrations. "It looks like there may have been one primary migration, but certain genetic markers are more prevalent in North America than in South America," Schurr explains, suggesting secondary waves. At this point, there's no definitive proof of either idea, but the evidence and logic lean toward multiple migrations. "If one migration made it over," Dillehay, now at Vanderbilt University, asks rhetorically, "why not more?"


Genetics also points to an original homeland for the first Americans—or at least it does to some researchers. "Skeletal remains are very rare, but the genetic evidence suggests they came from the Lake Baikal region" of Russia, says anthropologist Ted Goebel of the University of Nevada at Reno, who has worked extensively in that part of southern Siberia. "There is a rich archaeological record there," he says, "beginning about 40,000 years ago." Based on what he and Russian colleagues have found, Goebel speculates that there were two northward migratory pulses, the first between 28,000 and 20,000 years ago and a second sometime after 17,000 years ago. "Either one could have led to the peopling of the Americas," he says.

Like just about everything else about the first Americans, however, this idea is open to vigorous debate. The Clovis-first theory is pretty much dead, and the case for coastal migration appears to be getting stronger all the time. But in a field so recently liberated from a dogma that has kept it in an intellectual straitjacket since Franklin Roosevelt was President, all sorts of ideas are suddenly on the table. Could prehistoric Asians, for example, have sailed directly across the Pacific to South America? That may seem far-fetched, but scientists know that people sailing from Southeast Asia reached Australia some 60,000 years ago. And in 1947 the explorer Thor Heyerdahl showed it was possible to travel across the Pacific by raft in the other direction.

At least a couple of archaeologists, including Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian, even go so far as to suggest that the earliest Americans came from Europe, not Asia, pointing to similarities between Clovis spear points and blades from France and Spain dating to between 20,500 and 17,000 years B.P. (Meltzer, Goebel and another colleague recently published a paper calling this an "outrageous hypothesis," but Dillehay thinks it's possible.)

All this speculation is spurring a new burst of scholarship about locations all over the Americas. The Topper site in South Carolina, Cactus Hill in Virginia, Pennsylvania's Meadowcroft, the Taima-Taima waterhole in Venezuela and several rock shelters in Brazil all seem to be pre-Clovis. Dillehay has found several sites in Peru that date to between 10,000 and 11,000 years B.P. but have no apparent links to the Clovis culture. "They show a great deal of diversity," he says, "suggesting different early sources of cultural development in the highlands and along the coast."

It's only by studying those sites in detail and continuing to search for more evidence on land and offshore that these questions can be fully answered. And as always, the most valuable evidence will be the earthly remains of the ancient people themselves. In one 10-day session, Kennewick Man has added immeasurably to anthropologists' store of knowledge, and the next round of study is already under way. If scientists treat those bones with respect and Native American groups acknowledge the importance of unlocking their secrets, the mystery of how and when the New World was populated may finally be laid to rest.

Coming To America

For decades, scientists thought the New World was populated by migrants from Asia who wandered down the center of the continent about 12,000 years ago. New discoveries are pushing that theory out to sea. Three views on how humans populated the Americas

• COASTAL Recent finds at Daisy Cave, Calif., and Monte Verde, Chile, point to bands of people moving down the Pacific coast of North and South America much earlier, perhaps 30,000 years ago

• OVERLAND Discoveries at Clovis, N.M., led to the theory that a single human culture moved into the Americas down the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains about 12,000 years ago

• ATLANTIC Artifacts found in South Carolina have led some archaeologists to speculate that early migrants might have arrived on the East Coast from Europe, although the evidence remains in dispute Select

archaeological sites*:

• Other artifacts found Ushki Lake RUSSIA 11,000 B.P.

• Human remains found On Your Knees Cave ALASKA 9,818 B.P.

• Human remains found Kennewick WASH. 9,400 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Daisy Cave CALIF. 10,500 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Cedros Island MEXICO 11,000 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Folsom N.M. 10,490 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Clovis N.M. 11,200 B.P.

• Dates in dispute Meadowcroft PA. 14,250 B.P.

• Dates in dispute Cactus Hill VA. 15,070 B.P.

• Dates in dispute Topper S.C. 15,200 B.P.

• Dates in dispute Taima-Taima VENEZUELA 13,000 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Pedra Furada BRAZIL 47,000 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Lapa do Boquete BRAZIL Up to 12,070 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Tibit COLOMBIA 11,740 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Quebrada Jaguay PERU 10,500 B.P.

• Other artifacts found Monte Verde CHILE 12,500 B.P.

• Human remains found Palli Aike CHILE 8,640 B.P.

Tools in the search

ARCHAEOLOGY Skeletons like Kennewick Man are rare. More often scientists study and date other indications of human activity — remains of butchered animals, stone tools, spear points or even bits of burned charcoal. Unfortunately, such artifacts may never be found along coastal migration routes — they're now under water

GENETICS Scientists use markers in DNA samples from indigenous peoples in North and South America to figure out when populations diverged from each other. DNA comparisons suggest the first Americans may have diverged from groups in the Lake Baikal area of what is now Russia as early as 26,000 years ago

LINGUISTICS By studying native words and grammar, scientists can establish links and infer the amount of time required for different languages to evolve from a common origin. As of 1492, there were an estimated 1,000 languages in the Americas that may have developed from the original migrants

Migration milestones

• 30,000 B.P.* Beginning of last North American ice age. Mitochondrial-DNA studies indicate the earliest possible migration

• 25,000 Approximate opening of Bering land bridge between Asia and North America

• 20,000 Earliest migration date, according to Y-chromosome studies

• 15,000 Evidence of humans in South America Glacial melting floods Bering land bridge

• 10,000 End of last ice age in North America Kennewick Man lives in Pacific Northwest

• 5,000 Dawn of Central American cultures such as Olmec and Maya

• Present

*Dates are in radiocarbon years "before the present," a scientific standard meaning "before 1950"

-With reporting by Dan Cray/Los Angeles

Wade Wofford responds

Dear Robert V. Schmidt,

I'd already reviewed it for Ma'at. Here is what I thought of the article:


Sigh....I'm NOT impressed. (Starting with the BLUE pigment surrounding his dark eyes on the cover art...and his VERY light skin.)

List of errors:

P. 45 (1st page, only one paragraph on it...)

Error: Says the bones "were obviously old" & that when the coroner asked James Chatters his opinion, Chatters's off the cuff guess was 19th century White settler, based on "superficially Caucasoid features."

Reality: The bones were in very good shape & NOT particularly discolored (Chatters has even said they had comparable coloring to COW bones also found in the river mud). The college students who found the bones, AND the law enforcement they reported the find to, initially suspected that it was a fairly RECENT murder victim or accidental death. Chatters has admitted (interviews, etc.) that his opinion was heavily influenced by the fact that garbage from a 19th century homestead was found among the bones...making him suspect it was an associated burial. Oh, he's also quoted as having guessed "19th century White" BEFORE the coroner asked him anything (Chatters was the on-call, part-time deputy coroner...the bones were found on a Sunday & he talked to law enforcement & reporters BEFORE the actual coroner saw the skull or talked to him about it). Oh..."superficially Caucasoid features" is also a VERY vague description, covering peoples as diverse as Australian Aborigines, Papua New Guineans, Melanesians, Polynesians, many Siberians, Central Asians, Near Easterners, East Indians, Egyptians, North & East Africans, Khoisan from Southern Africa, many American Indians...and yes, actual Caucasians in Europe. It's so vague as to be worthless, they should have said "perceived Caucasian features" if going by what he actually told reporters early on, or "perceived Caucasoid features" if they go by his revisionism.

Error: Says a CT scan revealed a spear point embedded in the hip.

Reality: It was revealed by X-ray (see www.tri-cityherald.com, the SKULL was CT scanned, the hip was X-rayed). And one end of the spearpoint was VISUALLY observed PRIOR to that, it had been noticed by a retired dentist friend of Chatters', which is WHY the hip was X-rayed in the first place. (This is also why Chatters was inspired to send a bone sample off for C14 testing...the coroner's office had a limited budget & he hadn't previously planned to do so).

P. 46

Error: It says local tribes "almost immediately claimed it as an ancestor" & "A group of researchers sued , starting a legal tug of war"

Reality: The tribes were OFFERED custody under NAGPRA as soon as it was known to be pre-Columbian, and they immediately requested custody under it. And it wasn't just the researchers who sued...so did a flaky White neo-pagan religious cult that claimed Kennewick was a White ancestor of their's (& who later gloated on their website of having cost the government MILLIONS in court fees at minimal expense to themselves, and of having garnered millions of dollars of free publicity & many new recruits as a result of their lawsuit....). Ah, it also ignores the Samoan who sued in hopes of gaining publicity for his book & IT'S crackpot theory, and several other lesser lawsuits seeking custody that were soon dropped.

Minor quibble: Says C14 dated him at "more than 9,000 years ago" (says 9,400 on cover & on a migration route map)...does NOT mention that this date is debated, that there is a chance Kennewick is closer to 5,900 years old.

P. 47

Error: It says that the scientists got their first extensive access to the bones this last summer.

Reality: Govt scientists (chosen from a list supplied by the plaintiffs) studied the remains VERY extensively YEARS ago...between 1998-2000 (hundreds of hours of study, over a dozen individual tests/studies, published in over a dozen reports). It's JUST the plaintiff scientists who got "their" first extensive access (they'd had more restricted access previous) this last summer. (And btw,...the plaintiff scientists reports are NOT freely available, you have to have journal access or buy an electronic copy of what they write...the govt studies were all published online, free access! See www.cr.nps.gov.)

Error: It says Owsley & his team were able to determine Kennewick's height, handedness, & muscularity.

Reality: It forgets to note that the 1999 Powell & Rose study got the exact same results...(ditto re an old rib injury & two depression fractures on the head...Powell/Rose already found them).

Minor quibble: It says that Owsley estimates the age as being as young as 38 (vs. prior estimates of 45-55)...but doesn't give the reasons for this determination (as Powell/Rose did with their's).

Error: It says "but that's just the beginning of an impressive catalog of information that the scientists have added to what was already known."

Reality: They found NOTHING new (even the deliberate burial was already noted by Powell/Rose & others, it was previously claimed based on the complete condition of the remains & distribution of certain mineral stains).

P. 48

Minor quibble: Mention is made of the very slight wear on one rib...thought caused as the remains eroded out & thus indicative of the skeleton's orientation...this was ALSO noted by Powell & Rose. (I believe they argued a similar orientation in court & in interviews. And a number of the plaintiff scientists now saying deliberate burial had tried claiming the opposite back during the trial itself....). So again, NOTHING NEW.

Error: More ranting about the Army Corps of Engineers stabilization of the bank...even while admitting that the actual burial site had eroded away an estimated 6 months prior (not said in this article, but there had been a period of high flooding then).

Reality: WITHOUT the stabilization, the already severe ongoing erosion would have gotten worse. CURRENTLY, anything remaining CAN be accessed by removing the easily distinguishable added material (I recall hearing an estimated cost to do this of $60,000). There was NO evidence of any artifacts (even the mud itself was sifted!), no evidence of any related burials, NO sign that it would have been worthwhile to spend govt money to excavate virtually at random.

P. 49

Error: Says the bones were "never fossilized, and a careful analysis of their carbon and nitrogen composition, yet to be performed, should reveal plenty about Kennewick Man's diet" (plants vs. meat vs. fish).

Reality: The bones were heavily mineralized. And they HAD already been analyzed for amino acid composition as well as carbon isotopic ratios...we knew he was a heavy anadromous fish eater back in 2000.

Error: The Corps allowed researchers to send the skull fragments & the right hip to Illinois for ultra-high resolution CT scanning...allowing them to make a skull copy to "clear up a popular misconception that dates back to the initial reports of the discovery" (re Kennewick being Caucasian).

Reality: Detailed CT scans were made back in 1999 or 2000 (which might actually be what was talked about here...the article is often vague about WHO the "researchers" and "the scientists" it speaks of are...it implies from context that it's only talking of the plaintiffs, but this doesn't always jibe with the details). But even BEFORE that, regular examination & craniometric analysis (see the Powell/Rose report) had completely DISPROVED that misconception as far back as 1999. Also, the misconception wasn't just "popular"...it was specifically mouthed about by several of the plaintiff scientists themselves, during the lawsuit period.

P. 49-50

Error: Says Chatters mentioned "Caucasoid features" in 1996, but that Chatters himself never seriously thought "Caucasian" & "did his damnedest to curtain that business about Caucasians in America".

Reality: Chatters is a baldfaced liar. He's quoted in many dozens of interviews from 1996-early 2000's as specifically saying that Kennewick looked Caucasian, looked White, would NOT be out of place walking down a street in Stockholm, etc. Whenever called on this by more ethical scientists, he'd backtrack & claim he only said "Causasoid"...but he's on TAPE as having said the other, and the chronology of various interviews shows he KEPT saying Caucasian & such rather than merely "Caucasoid'. He also went on the lecture circuit...I've seen him quoted by attendees at private paid lectures as having said that Kennewick looked Caucasian (and/or "White") but that he (Chatters) was forced to tone down his wording because of pressure put on him by the govt & the PC academic community. And one attendee at a (2001-2002?) lecture paid for by a white supremacist group specifically said that Chatters told them Kennewick was as White as they were....

P. 50-51

Finally, some valid reporting...on pre-Clovis, various finds,NAGPRA working as it was intended (cooperation between scientists & tribes, reburials, study WITH cooperation after asking permission, etc. Too bad the article DOESN'T mention that the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit BEFORE asking tribal permission for study, that they were on record as having been looking for an anti-NAGPRA test case for years BEFORE Kennewick, that they mouthed racist nonsense to reporters & generally did everything they could to PREVENT tribal cooperation right from the start & to ENSURE that tribes wouldn't trust them enough to grant permission even if it was offered). Considered mention is also made of the "Kelp highway" theory.

P. 52

More decent reporting, talk of DNA evidence, & then of alternate routes ranging from transpacific voyages from SE Asia to South America, to Stanford's Solutrean theory (with both the theory & serious opposition to it all squeezed into a single economical paragraph).


Verdict? I give the article an F on Kennewick, a B+ on how it deals with the settling of the Americas (it jumps around, skimps on craniometrics, but is moderately solid for a popularize magazine piece)...for a D+ overall....No, wait...make that a D- for a misleading title ("the UNTOLD saga of early man in America", when it's all been told before) & poor artwork.

And unless Owsley is holding something back for journal publication, his team found absolutely NOTHING new, NOTHING worth their having continued the lawsuit after the govt studies or worth their having been given personal access to the remains.

(Last minute addition...forgot to say that they bring up purported Polynesian/Ainu affinities on his craniometrics...but neglect to put this in perspective by pointing out that for the most part, he wasn't compared to enough of a Native American sample to tell...due to their having used a database in which Native Americans were disproportionately underrepresented. Nor do they mention that the percentage of match to those two groups was EXTREMELY weak, as was the match to any modern population overall...and that once they pooled regional samples OR started using fewer variables (which blurred microevolutionary "static") OR tossed Archaic era Amerindians into the analysis they consistently got Native American & Beringian samples as the closest matches...at odds of match MANY times higher than the best matches in any of the other versions. But I didn't give them a poorer grade on this, on account of it being somewhat esoteric knowledge...they'd actually require expertise OR careful perusal of the govt reports to know this. Speaking of this, I wonder why no mention of the govt website with all that study info free online...maybe because it would cut the rug out from under their "Owsley & crew are learning all this great new info" falsehood?)


Wade Wofford

Suzan Shown Harjo responds

Harjo: 'Kennewick Man — The Greatest Show Unearthed'

Posted: March 17, 2006

by: Suzan Shown Harjo / Indian Country Today

Time magazine and Kennewick scientists have turned the image of the Ancient One into a freak show worthy of P.T. Barnum at his sucker-born-every-minute best: "Kennewick Man — The Greatest Show Unearthed."

There he is on the March 13 Time magazine cover, identified as "9,400-year-old Kennewick Man." He's a vaguely Slavic/Franco/Polynesian-looking fellow with dark hair, heavy brows and blue eyes.

Blue eyes?

Yes, blue eyes. They're navy blue and baby blue, and glassy, like the creepy eyes of a museum manikin. The left eye has just a touch of gold in it.

Time's creative rendering is the graphic equivalent of Dr. James Chatters' 1996 claim to every reporter on the planet that the Ancient One was Caucasian.

Chatters — the local anthropologist the coroner asked to investigate a possible crime when two students found the human remains along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash. — quickly changed his story, claiming he only said his Kennewick Man had Caucasoid-like features and that even a bad scientist would not have used the word "Caucasian."

As soon as the Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Yakama nations claimed the Ancient One, Chatters teamed up with Smithsonian and other federally-funded scientists to try and prove that the Ancient One came from Asia or Europe and was anything but Native American.

In their zealousness, the scientists lost some of the bones, which remain unaccounted for today, and they sued for permission to study the rest.

Federal judges awarded Kennewick Man to the scientists by creating a legal fiction: that human remains are Native American only after the founding of the United States and older ones are "archaeological resources." Presto! The Native Ancient One was reclassified as federal property and scientists were able to carve him up.

Time's blue-eyed Kennewick Man cover promises to reveal "The Untold Saga of Early Man in America," but the inside pages sport only more teases and skewed visual aids.

The better part of two inside pages are devoted to photographs of the Ancient One's skeleton, with detailed pictures of his skull, teeth and wounded bones.

Two other pages feature another drawing of Kennewick Man. This time, he is a very pale guy in a tank top and pedal pushers, wearing some weird bustle covering his backside.

Another two pages of graphics (including another picture of the Ancient One's skull that scientists and Time editors can't seem to get their fill of) illustrate the "Coming to America — Migration Milestones."

The main theories depicted include the oldest and largely discredited one, that everyone walked from Asia across the Bering Strait, and the newest, that Native Americans really are French or Spanish and got here somehow across the Atlantic Ocean. Russia's Lake Baikal region is pinpointed as one of the possible sites where Native Americans originated.

It is worth noting that none of these European or American scientists' theories allow for the possibility that Native peoples originated here or ever traveled to Asia or Europe. And none of them even mention peoples of Africa as having any part in any transoceanic travel theory.

Time reports breathlessly that Kennewick case plaintiff and Smithsonian anthropologist Douglas Owsley and his team have been "able to nail down or make strong guesses about Kennewick Man's physical attributes" and that the findings are "clearly worth the wait."

Time's list of findings is of all things that have been known since he was first studied in the late 1990s: his approximate height (5 feet 9 inches), that he was muscular and that he was wounded. The only "new finding" is Owsley's guess that the Ancient One might have been as young as 38, rather than an earlier guess that he was 45 to 55 years old.

The story touts as the Owsley researchers' "most remarkable discovery" the one that "Kennewick Man had been buried deliberately." But that finding is not new and it is not Owsley's.

It was reported in 1999 by National Park Service archaeologist Frank P. McManamon that a scientific team of more than a dozen members, which did not include Owsley or his researchers, concluded in studies conducted between Feb. 25 and March 1 of that year that the Ancient One was intentionally buried.

The fiction that there's something new here is no doubt prominent in proposals for more federal dollars for more invasive research.

In advancing Owsley's fictions, Time is not simply his political tool. It is both press flak and propaganda partner.

"Still, the bones have more secrets to reveal," the Time story pants on. "The researchers may be able to determine whether he preferred meat or fish."

Whatever were Time's reporters and editors thinking? How can any study, no matter how creatively speculative, determine his "preferred" cuisine? A study may conclude what was eaten, but not what was favored or even liked.

The last page of the story features (what else?) one more photo of the Ancient One's skull, this time with Owsley's face peering into it.

A Yakama Nation delegation attended the presentation by Owsley and his team at a Feb. 23 meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. "We went over to Seattle to hear what Dr. Owsley had to say and we were very disappointed just listening to him," said Yakama Council Member LaRena Sohappy.

"After the scientists probed and prodded this individual, we thought they would return the remains to us so we could have a burial for the bones," said Sohappy, who chairs the Yakama Cultural Committee. "Now we understand they are going to send the bones overseas to Japan and China so other scientists can make more determinations.

"This is a disgraceful thing they are doing to the bones, tearing them apart to study some more," said Sohappy.

Time's kicker quote is mostly a scold and gets to its own heart in the matter: "If scientists treat those bones with respect and Native American groups acknowledge the importance of unlocking their secrets, the mystery of how and when the New World was populated may finally be laid to rest."

For Time, the real questions and their answers are to be found in their sub-headlines: "Who Really Discovered America?" and "Who Should Own the Bones?"

Time's assumption (and hope, it would seem) is that Native peoples are not the original owners of this land. The second question is even more disturbing in its implication that anyone should "own" human remains.

That is the exact reason the repatriation laws were enacted: to get away from the inhumane law that categorized Native Americans as property and to apply international standards of human rights to deceased Native people.

Congress needs to take charge of this matter once again and clarify its meaning — especially for those who are using the European migration game to justify dissolving the repatriation laws. If it continues to do nothing, it promotes this antiquated, barbaric notion that scientists and museums "own" Native American people.

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.

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