Kennewick Man

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Kennewick Man, skull and reconstruction, 2014. Forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley believes that the closest living relatives are Polynesians and Ainu.[1]

Kennewick Man is the name generally given to the skeletal remains of a prehistoric Paleoamerican man found on a bank of the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington, on July 28, 1996.[2] It is one of the most complete ancient skeletons ever found. Bone tests have shown it to date from 7000 to 6900 B.C.E.[1]

The discovery of the remains has led to considerable controversy, as the Umatilla people and other tribes have wanted the remains returned to them for reburial under NAGPRA. Scientists wanted to study the ancient skeleton and did conduct studies in the early 2000s. The United States Army Corps of Engineers retains custody, as the remains were found on property under its control.

With changes in technology, additional DNA testing of remains has been conducted in Denmark, and preliminary results reported in January 2015 suggest that Kennewick Man is linked to current Native Americans, leading to a renewed demand for the return of remains.[3]


When all the pieces were put together, the skeleton of Kennewick Man was found to be nearly complete. A stone projectile was found lodged in the man's hip bone. As his anatomical features were quite different from those of modern Native Americans, scientists thought that his relationship to other ancient people was uncertain.

The finding of the skeleton triggered a nine-year legal clash between scientists, the U.S. government, and Native American tribes that claim Kennewick Man as one of their ancestors and want the remains returned to them under NAGPRA.

In February 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a cultural link between any of the Native American tribes and the Kennewick Man could not be proved because of the age of the remains. Its ruling allowed scientific study of the remains to continue, while the United States Army Corps of Engineers retained custody of the remains.[4][5] In July 2005, a team of scientists from around the United States convened in Seattle for ten days to study the remains in detail. Their research results were published in a book in 2014.[6]

Although DNA testing was conducted in the early 2000s, the technology was not advanced enough to deal with ancient remains and the results were inconclusive. Advances in ancient DNA analysis since then have led to renewed testing, which is still under way in Denmark (as of February 2015). In January 2015, the preliminary results were reported to link Kennewick Man to Native Americans. The team responsible for the testing, however, has emphasized that the result is only preliminary and could change some with more detailed analysis.[3]


The discovery of Kennewick Man was accidental. Will Thomas and David Deacy were attending the annual hydroplane races, and found his skull in a reservoir on the Columbia River at Columbia Park [7] The remains had been scattered in the reservoir due to erosion.

Following delivery of the cranium by the coroner, they were examined by archaeologist James Chatters. In ten visits to the site, Chatters managed to collect 350 bones and pieces of bone, which, with the skull, completed almost an entire skeleton.[8] The cranium was fully intact with all the teeth that had been present at the time of death.[9] All major bones were found, except the sternum and a few bones of the hands and feet.

The remains were determined to be those of "a male of late middle age (40-55 years), and tall (170 to 176 cm, 5′7″ to 5′9″),and was fairly muscular with a slender build".[9] Kennewick Man was found to be clearly right-handed, as the bones of the right arm are noticeably larger than the bones found in Kennewick Man's left arm. Forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, whom led the scientific team that examined Kennewick Man's skeleton, discovered that the bones in Kennewick Man's arms were so robust, that they were bent. Owsley theorized that this was the result of muscles built up over the course of a lifetime of hunting and spearfishing.[10]

Many of the bones were broken into several pieces.[11] At the University of California, Riverside, a small bone fragment was subjected to radiocarbon dating. This fixed the age of the skeleton at approximately 9,300 to 9,600 years (8,400 uncalibrated "radiocarbon years"), not the 19th century, as had originally been assumed.[8] After studying the bones, Chatters concluded that they belonged to a Caucasoid male about 68 inches (173 cm) tall who had died in his mid-fifties.[8]

Chatters found that bone had partially grown around a 79 mm (3.1 in) stone projectile lodged in the ilium, part of the pelvic bone.[11] On x-ray, nothing appeared. Chatters put the bone through a CT scan, and it was discovered that the projectile was made from a siliceous gray stone that was found to have igneous (intrusive volcanic) origins.[11] The projectile, leaf-shaped, long, and broad, with serrated edges, fit the definition of a Cascade point. This type of point is a feature of the Cascade phase, which occurred roughly 7,500 to 12,000 years ago.[11]

To further investigate the mystery of the Kennewick man and determine whether the skeleton belonged to the Umatilla Native American tribe, an extraction of DNA was analyzed. However, according to the report of the scientists performing the DNA analysis, "available technology and protocols do not allow the analysis of ancient DNA from these remains."[12]

Anthropologist Joseph Powell of the University of New Mexico was also allowed to examine the remains. Powell used craniometric data obtained by anthropologist William White Howells of Harvard University and anthropologist Tsunehiko Hanihara of Saga University that had the advantage of including data drawn from Asian and North American populations.[13] Powell said that Kennewick Man was not European but most resembled the Ainu[8] and Polynesians.[13] Powell said that the Ainu descend from the Jōmon people who are an East Asian population with "closest biological affinity with south-east Asians rather than western Eurasian peoples".[14] Furthermore, Powell said that dental analysis showed the skull to have a 94 percent chance of being a Sundadont group like the Ainu and Polynesians and only a 48 percent chance of being a Sinodont group like that of North Asia, the people who migrated to North America.[13] Powell said analysis of the skull showed it to be "unlike American Indians and Europeans".[13] Powell concluded that Kennewick man "is clearly not a Caucasoid unless Ainu and Polynesians are considered Caucasoid."[14]

Chatters et al. conducted a graphic comparison, including size, of Kennewick Man to eighteen modern populations and showed Kennewick Man to be most closely related to the Ainu. However, when size was excluded as a factor, no association to any population was established.[8] Chatters said that anthropologist C. Loring Brace classified Ainu and Polynesians as a single craniofacial Jomon-Pacific cluster and Chatters said "Polynesians have craniofacial similarities to Asian, Australian and European peoples".[13] Brace himself stated in a 2006 interview with the Tri-City Herald that his analysis of the skeleton indicated that Kennewick Man was related to the Ainu.[15][16]

The biological diversity among ancient skulls in the Americas has further complicated attempts to establish how closely Kennewick Man is related to any modern Native American tribes.[8] Skulls older than 8,000 years old have been found to possess greater physical diversity than do those of modern Native Americans. This range implies that there was a genetic shift in populations about 8,000 years ago. The heterogeneity of these early people shows that genetic drift had already occurred, meaning the racial type represented by Kennewick Man had been in existence for a considerable period.[8]

In 2005, a 10-day examination of the skeleton led by forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley revealed that Kennewick Man had arthritis in his right eblow, both of his knees, and within several of his vertebrae. Although not severe enough to be crippling. Anthropologist David Owsley discovered that Kennewick Man had also suffered some trauma in his lifetime as well, which was evident by a fractured rib that had healed, a depression fracture on Kennewick Man's forehead and similar indentation on the left side of the head, as well as a spear jab that healed. Despite earlier theories regarding Kennewick Man's age, Owsley thinks he may have been as young as 38 during the time of death.[17]

Perhaps the most remarkable discovery thus far, Kennewick Man was found to have been deliberately buried. By examining the calcium carbonate left behind as underground water collected on the underside of the bones which then evaporated, scientists were able to conclude that Kennewick Man was lying on his back with his feet rolled slightly outward and his arms at his side , with the palms facing down - a position that could hardly have come about by accident.[18]

In 2012, Owsley announced that isotope measurements of the bones indicated that the man seems to have lived almost exclusively on a diet of marine mammals for the last 20 or so years of his life and that the water he drank was glacial melt water from a high altitude. The closest marine coastal environment where one could find glacial melt water at the time of Kennewick Man was Alaska.[19] Owsley further confirmed that the skull's features resemble those of the Ainu and suggested that the man's ancestors may have retreated from advancing people from central Asia and traveled by boat over generations along the coast northward and east to North America.[20]

Chatters changed his position after DNA testing showed a 13,000-year-old skeleton he studied in Mexico was connected to current Native Americans. Due to such DNA linking other ancient remains to Native Americans, Chatters has changed his position on the origin of Kennewick Man. In response to the January 2015 report on Kennewick Man, he said, “The result from Kennewick is the same one we’re getting from the other early individuals,” Chatters said. “It’s what I expected.”[3] Researchers conducting the DNA testing wrote that they "feel that Kennewick has normal, standard Native-American genetics."[3]

Scientific significance[edit]

The discovery of Kennewick Man, along with other ancient skeletons, has furthered scientific debate over the exact origin and history of early Native American people.[8] One hypothesis holds that a single wave of migration occurred, consisting of hunters and gatherers following large herds of game, which wandered across the Bering land bridge around 12,000 years ago. Other hypotheses contend that there were numerous waves of migration to the Americas. The apparent diversity of ancient skeletal remains, which may include traits not typically associated with modern Native Americans, has been used as evidence to support these rival hypotheses. A 2008 study on the genetics of modern Native American populations suggests that the 86 samples taken are descendants of a single migration that spread out along a coastal route prior to the Clovis era.[21]

In February 2014, DNA findings for the Anzick boy, remains of a 2-year-old boy in Montana at a 12,600-year-old burial site, showed deep genetic connections to Native Americans in the Americas, adding to the land bridge evidence.[22] The preliminary DNA findings in January 2015 that link Kennewick Man to Native Americans adds strength to the theory of peoples migrating by the Siberian land bridge. It is part of the "growing evidence that ancestors of the New World’s indigenous people originated in Siberia and migrated across a land mass that spanned the Bering Strait during the last ice age. And it would undermine alternative theories that some early migrants arrived from Southeast Asia or even Europe."[3]

Ownership controversy[edit]

According to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, if human remains are found on federal lands and their cultural affiliation to a Native American tribe can be established, the affiliated tribe may claim them. The Umatilla tribe requested custody of the remains, wanting to bury them according to tribal tradition. Their claim was contested by researchers hoping to study the remains.[23] The Umatilla argued that their oral history goes back 10,000 years and say that their people have been present on their historical territory since the dawn of time.[24]

Robson Bonnichsen and seven other anthropologists sued the United States for the right to conduct tests on the skeleton. On February 4, 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel rejected the appeal brought by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Umatilla, Colville, Yakama, Nez Perce, and other tribes on the grounds that they were unable to show any evidence of kinship.[4][5] The presiding judge found that the US government had acted in bad faith, and awarded attorney’s fees of $2,379,000 to the plaintiffs. [1]

On April 7, 2005, during the 109th Congress, United States Senator John McCain introduced an amendment to NAGPRA which (section 108) would have changed the definition of "Native American" from being that which "is indigenous to the United States" to "is or was indigenous to the United States."[25] However, the 109th Congress concluded without enacting the bill. By the bill's definition, Kennewick Man would have been classified as Native American, regardless of whether any link to a contemporary tribe could be found.

Proponents of this definition argue that it agrees with current scientific understanding, which is that it is not in all cases possible for prehistoric remains to be traced to current tribal entities, partly because of social upheaval, forced resettlement and extinction of entire ethnicities caused by disease and warfare. Passage of this bill would not resolve the controversy related to Kennewick Man, as there would have to be a determination of which Native American group should take possession of the remains, if he could not be definitively linked with a current tribe. To be of practical use in a historical and prehistorical context, some argue further that the term "Native American" should be applied so that it spans the entire range from the Clovis culture (which cannot be positively assigned to any contemporary tribal group) to the Métis, a group of mixed ancestry who developed as an ethnic group as a consequence of European contact, yet constitute a distinct cultural entity.[citation needed]

The remains are now (2014) at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, where they were deposited in October 1998. The Burke Museum is the court-appointed neutral repository for the remains and does not exhibit the remains. They are still legally the property of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as they were found on land under its custody.[26] The tribes still want the remains to be reburied. The Corps of Engineers continues to deny scientist's requests to conduct additional studies of the skeleton. [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Douglas Preston, "The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets", Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014
  2. ^ Kennewick Man Skeletal Find May Revolutionalize Continent's History, Science Daily, 2006-04-26, retrieved 2013-02-06 
  3. ^ a b c d e Sandi Doughton, "First DNA Tests Say Kennewick Man Was Native American", Seattle Times, January 17, 2015
  4. ^ a b Bonnichsen, et al. v. United States, et al. (pdf), United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals), 2004-02-04, no. 02-35994 
  5. ^ a b Melissa Lee Phillips (2005-07-06), Scientists finally study Kennewick Man, BBC News Online, retrieved 2013-02-06 
  6. ^ "New Book on Kennewick Man Details Hard Life in Paleoamerica", National Museum of Natural History, 08/25/2014
  7. ^ Stang, John (2005-06-20). "Skull found on shore of Columbia". Tri-City Herald. Archived from the original on 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2007-05-27. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Custred, Glynn (2000). "The Forbidden Discovery of Kennewick Man". Academic Questions 13 (3): 12–30. doi:10.1007/s12129-000-1034-8. 
  9. ^ a b Chatters, James C. (2004). "Kennewick Man". Arctic Studies Center at the National Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2013-02-05. originally published in the "Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association" 
  10. ^ Annual Editions: Archaeology, 10th Edition
  11. ^ a b c d Chatters, James C. (2000). "The Recovery and First Analysis of an Early Holocene Human". American Antiquity (Society for American Archaeology) 65 (2): 291–316. doi:10.2307/2694060. JSTOR 2694060. PMID 17216899. 
  12. ^ Lindsay, Everett. "Archeology Program: Kennewick Man". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  13. ^ a b c d e James C. Chatters. (2001). Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans. Touchstone Rockefeller Center. USA.
  14. ^ a b Powell, Joseph F.; Rose, Jerome C. Chapter 2 Report on the Osteological Assessment of the Kennewick Man Skeleton (CENWW.97.Kennewick). Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  15. ^ "Y-DNA-HAPLOGROUP-I-L Archives: Kennewick Man's bones provide window to past". RootsWeb. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  16. ^ "The Case of the 9000 Year Old Kennewick Man Revisited". August 30, 2002. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  17. ^ Annual Editions: Archaeology, 10th Edition
  18. ^ Annual Editions: Archaeology, 10th Edition
  19. ^ Preston, Douglas (September 2014). "The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets". Smithsonian magazine. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  20. ^ Kim Murphy (2012-10-14). "Kennewick Man was just passing through, anthropologist says". The Columbian. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-02-06. 
  21. ^ Fagundes NJ, Kanitz R, Eckert R et al. (March 2008). "Mitochondrial population genomics supports a single pre-Clovis origin with a coastal route for the peopling of the Americas". Am. J. Hum. Genet. 82 (3): 583–92. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.11.013. PMC 2427228. PMID 18313026. 
  22. ^ Sharon Bigley, "Ancient native boy's genome reignites debate over first Americans", Reuters, 12 February 2014
  23. ^ Minthorn, Armand (September 1996). "Human Remains Should Be Reburied". Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
  24. ^ Thomas, David Hurst (2001). Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity (Reprint ed.). Basic Books. p. xxii. ISBN 978-0-465-09225-3. 
  25. ^ "S. 536, 109th Cong., Native American Omnibus Act of 2005 (Reported in Senate)". Library of Congress. 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  26. ^ "Kennewick Man". Burke Museum. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Adler, Jerry. "A 9,000-Year-Old Secret." New York: Newsweek. July 25, 2005. Vol. 146, Issue 4; pg. 52. (subscription required)
  • Benedict, Jeff. "No bone unturned: Inside the world of a top forensic scientist and his work on America's most notorious crimes and disasters" New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2003. ISBN 0-06-095888-X
  • Carrillo, Jo (ed.). Readings in American Indian Law: Recalling the Rhythm of Survival, Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1998.
  • Chatters, James C. "Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man & the First Americans" New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. ISBN 0-684-85936-X
  • Dewar, Elaine. Bones, Discovering the First Americans, Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York, 2002, ISBN 0-7867-0979-0
  • Downey, Roger. "Riddle of the Bones: Politics, Science, Race, and the Story of Kennewick Man" New York: Springer, 2000. ISBN 978-0-387-98877-1
  • Gear,Kathleen O'Neal and Gear, Michael W. "People of the Raven", TOR Books, New York, 2004, ISBN 0-765-34757-1
  • Jones, Peter N. "Respect for the Ancestors: American Indian Cultural Affiliation in the American West" Boulder: Bauu Press, 2005. ISBN 0-9721349-2-1
  • Owsley, Douglas W. and Jantz, Richard L., editors. Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-62349-200-7
  • Thomas, David Hurst. "Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity" New York: Basic Books, ca. 2000. ISBN 0-465-09224-1

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 46°13′23.14″N 119°8′36.00″W / 46.2230944°N 119.1433333°W / 46.2230944; -119.1433333