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by William Glover

The discovery of Kennewick Man and the debate surrounding his age and what he can tell us about the first settlers of the New World and their origins, also has implications for Native Americans and the future of any research into Americaís past.

When Kennewick Man was discovered in July of 1996, no one could have predicted the debate and struggle that his remains would create. In the last ten years the normal course of action would have been a fairly simple exercise of determining if the remains were a victim of a crime, if not, were the remains of Native American or European origin, an examination by a physical anthropologist can quickly in most cases can reveal the origin of the remains and it has been assumed if its of European decent its no older than 500 years old, if of Native American decent in most cases there is an effort ( this is generally mandated by law) to determine if the remains are related to modern tribe or tribes this group(s) are contacted and that tribal group(s) has a strong influence on any further analysis or investigation of the remains and the area of the discovery. When analysis and investigations are completed the remains and any associated artifacts if any were recovered, would be returned to the tribe(s) for reburial or any other action that group deems proper.

Well Kennewick Man was any thing but typical, the above procedure was followed but the story that unfolded was unexpected, his bones seemed to say that he belonged to no modern Native American group, the projectile point imbedded in his hip bore the shape of a very early type tool known to be a least 6000 years old. And the single radiocarbon date that was taken from a small bone fragment, came back with an age range of 8340 to 9200 years before the present, and this is all we might have ever know about this remarkable person but a group of archaeologists and anthropologist filed a law suite to prevent the return of the remains by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The law suite caused two things to happen; first the involvement of the Department of the Interior and National Parks Service as managers and custodians of Kennewick Man, and the production of several studies which have raised as many questions as they answered, and a second is a far more complex set of problems which revolve around Native American beliefs, history, and politics which woven into the scientific investigations into the archeology of the new world, the legacy European colonization of the new world, and other speculations about the early influences or migrations into the new world which at this time may not be considered mainstream ideas.

What we know now about Kennewick Man: Where was he found and what happen to that area; the discovery area was near Kennewick, Washington, along the banks of Lake Wallula (a section of the Columbia River which has pooled behind Mc Nary dam) just offshore from Columbia Park which is located on the river terrace, with the remains found 10 feet offshore and scattered over an area of 300 square feet in 18 inches of water. Now these details might not seem very important and that we should be able to conduct more research and the remains themselves with the studies we have done could be considered enough. Well the COE have covered the area with tons of rock and its highly unlikely anyone will ever be able to study the site which Kennewick Man was a part of.

Results of the present studies:

Kennewick Man has had several radiocarbon samples processed from three different laboratories and the earliest C-14 date is 9510-9320 years before the Present with the latest date at 5750 =/- 100 years Before the Present.

The bones of Kennewick Man seem to indicate he was deliberately buried and did not indicate the he was exposed the elements (as would be expected if he had died in a accident or of exposure) and that there is evidence of red ocher (a pigment) staining the bones. He was between 45 to 50 years of age, about 5í9" tall, well muscled, he had two broken ribs which had healed and which may have occurred at the same time projectile point was embedded in his hip, these events appeared to have occurred when he was between 15 to 20 years of age. The physical anthropologist who examined Kennewick Man to determine what population group he bore the most relationship to came to these conclusions " Only the odonometric (features on the teeth) suggest a connection between Kennewick Man and modern American Indians, but the typical probabilities for this analysis were all very low" the had a number of features on the bone not found in modern populations. The features on the skull share more features in common with the south Pacific, Polynesia as well as the Ainu of Japan. And only a sequence of well dated human remains from the region (east-central Washington) can provide direct evidence of biological connections to modern Native American groups in the area. Although there is no evidence of Caucasoid affinities (Caucasoid being defined as people living or having lived in western and south western Eurasia or what is now Europe).

It should be strongly emphasized that the with such a small number comparative samples that to place Kennewick Man in a direct line of decent any modern America Indian population is not possible at this time, nor is it possible to say how representative is of early human populations in the new world, the analysis so far does suggest that some of our ideas of the origins of where some of early populations that entered the new world and that the route they took may not have been across the landbridge but may indicate that a coastal maritime route and that the northern Eurasia/ Asian populations may not have been the first populations into north America or the only ones to enter north America.

Well now why are Native Americans so upset, I can only speculate from my experiences with Native Americans and what has been published so far about the debate over Kennewick Man, Native American concern from some individuals stems from the fear of loosing treaty rights and the belief that this is an attack on their religious beliefs. The more extreme views are that they have always been here that their oral traditions need no support from modern science, their are others who have long viewed the way in which Native American culture and their artifacts have been treated has been very disrespectful, and with the change in laws which have given tribes more control and influence in how archeology and museums deal with the cultural resources of that group, they fear an erosion of that control and influence.

The archaeologists feel (with no disrespect to Native Americans intended) that we are losing critical pieces of the great puzzle of new world prehistory and its relationship to the larger picture of human history and that as complete an investigation of human remains of this age needs to be conducted, this is based on the very limited studies that have been conducted in the past where those remains are now no longer available for study, now that new tools are available to conduct those investigations.

The government really dislikes getting into any of this and would have been happy if none of it had ever come up, in its own documents there is evidence of mishandling of records, the remain themselves, and an effort to avoid an issue which I believe will come up again and that can be separated into two parts; the first is the way the laws governing human remains and cultural materials which uses Columbusís voyages as the earliest entry into the new world or any remains older than 500 years are Native American ( well the Vikings donít count I guess) and as many of your guests have speculated there may have been other explores or population movements, the evidence is now gone or classified as Native American (any wonder that mainstream archeology has a hard time accepting anything other the standard view of things). The second part is the other unintended products of the Kennewick debate is it has highlighted a part of the federal law which covers human remains and burial related artifacts and how they are to be treated, such as which native group takes control of this material and if the remains and material can not be assigned to any living group what then? And when does the age of the remains make them more a piece of national history in the way that the Ice Man of the Alps found in the 1980ís was not an ethnic issue but part of two nations heritage.

In conclusion Kennewick Man the debate surrounding him has raised some very important issues not only about what I have touched on above but has open the doors to who were the first people in the new world, when they got here, and how they got here. But also how we look at archeology, of what value we chose to place on it to explore those mysteries of the past here in north and south America, and will we have an archeology in the United States which will be able to try to answer those questions. More than once I have been told " you will never find what your not looking for if your mind is closed"

Wm. Glover


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