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 THE KENNEWICK MAN

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PostSubject: THE KENNEWICK MAN   Tue Feb 03, 2015 6:39 pm

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On July 28, 1996, two young men were shocked to discover a human skull in the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington. They called the police, who suspected that the find did not indicate a crime scene, so they called in the local coroner. The coroner was puzzled. The skull did not look like a modern one, so he sent for James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Little did Chatters know on that first day that he was beginning a landmark part of his life that would last for many years of legal bickering and maneuvering.

By the evening of that first day, the coroner and Chatters discovered many other bones nearby. They carefully collected them and moved them to Chatters’ office where they placed them on a table in a nearby laboratory. Chatters was pretty sure that the skull was not that of an American Indian. The teeth themselves indicated a diet atypical of other ancient remains found in the area. Chatters investigated further. He would uncover several broken bones and a spearhead made of stone lodged in the hip of the skeleton. Clearly this ancient man (it was quickly determined not to be a female) had lived an epic life.

As is common with finds such as this, Chatters sent a bone to a lab that did carbon dating. He was stunned by the results: the skeleton appeared to be approximately 9,000 years old.

Had the story stopped there, the skeleton might have been investigated and then shipped off to be displayed in a local museum. But there was a snag: who “owned” the skeleton and had the right to decide its ultimate fate?

The first claimant was the Army Corps of Engineers, who oversaw the management of that part of the Columbia River. They wanted control of the skeleton and stated that there would be no further scientific study of the remains. Quickly, the county coroner who had assisted Chatters in gathering the bones claimed that as the local official he had the right to choose the future of the skeleton.

At practically the same time, the local American Indian tribes claimed the right to take control of the remains, as stated in the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The tribes said they would bury the remains, as was their custom, and, as with the Army Corps, scientific study of the skeleton would cease.

By this time Chatters had involved several other scientists in the study of the bones, and he desperately wanted to continue what could easily be a significant landmark in the study of early American history. To add weight to his claim, Chatters sought the help of anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Together, Chatters and Owsley would fight for the ability to analyze and study the skeleton.

Until a firm verdict was reached, the Army Corps took possession of the bones and locked them away in a laboratory. The struggle for ownership continued.

For their part, the American Indians had a strong case if it could be proved that the skeleton was, in fact, the remains of an ancestor race. But the scientists didn’t agree and claimed that the remains had much more in common with known ancestors of Polynesia, islands around New Zealand, or the Ainu people of Japan. With this information, the scientists enlisted the help of an attorney in the hopes of getting an injunction to any further action on the part of the Army Corps or the tribes. At the very last minute, a judge decided to hold off on any further action until more assessment about the ownership of the skeleton could be brought forth. The remains stayed in the possession of the Army Corps.

The legal case continued while the skeleton was moved by the Army Corps to non-public rooms in the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. Owsley and Chatters kept track of the bones and protested that the Burke Museum did not have the facilities to keep the remains in the climate-controlled environment necessary to prevent further degradation of the bones. The Museum disagreed.

In the transition to the Burke Museum, two leg bones vanished. Owsley and Chatters demanded an official investigation only to become the main suspects. The femurs would eventually be mysteriously discovered among the skeletal remains housed in the county coroner’s office.

The legal battle continued until a court decided in 2002 that the skeleton could be thoroughly examined by the team of scientists. Many were surprised at the decision that went against the American Indian tribes and the Army Corps. The court said, in part: “Kennewick Man’s remains are so old and the information about his era is so limited [that we cannot] conclude reasonably that Kennewick Man shares…genetic or cultural features with presently existing…people, or cultures.” The skeleton would continue to be held at the Burke Museum.

The scientists lost no time in resuming their analysis of the bones. Their studies brought to light educated theories on many aspects of how Kennewick Man lived. Further findings on Kennewick Man contained intriguing facts about his life: he had primarily eaten fish and other aquatic wildlife, he showed signs of arthritis, there were two non-fatal wounds on his skull, he may have spent periods of time in the region of Alaska, and he had been buried by others at the Columbia River and did not die naturally at the site.

In 2014 the scientists produced the book “Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton.” In the book they discuss the findings of their years of research but admit that many mysteries of Kennewick Man remain to be solved.

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THE KENNEWICK MAN

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