Robson Bonnichsen (3 December 1940 – 25 December 2004) was an anthropologist who undertook pioneering research in First American studies, popularized the field and founded the Center for the Study of the First Americans. Bonnichsen and his colleagues believed that humans colonized North America long before 11,000 years ago, when people of the Clovis culture left their signature artifacts in North America.
Bonnichsen was born in Twin Falls, Idaho. In 1965, he received his B.A. in anthropology from Idaho State University, and went on to earn his Ph.D in anthropology from the University of Alberta in Canada, in 1974.
Bonnichsen took a multidisciplinary approach to the study of First Americans. He conducted archaeological research around the globe, both in locales where the ancestors of early Americans might have lived, such as China and Russia, and in locales in the Western Hemisphere where ancient American sites might be documented, such as Canada and South America. Bonnichsen, his colleagues and students searched for similarities in tools from these sites, and other early sites, looking for clues about the geographic origins of the humans who first made the journey to North America.
Bonnichsen was one of eight anthropologists who, in the case Bonnichsen, et al. v. United States, et al., sued for the right to study skeletal remains from Kennewick Man, which had already been radiocarbon dated to 9,300 years before the present. The anthropologists believed that the bones were a national treasure with the potential to reveal significant information about the origins of the humans who colonized North America, and that they should be closely examined and tested before being turned over to contemporary Native Americans for burial. The controversial case ended in a ruling from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal in favor of the scientists. The ruling came on February 4, 2004, ten months before Bonnichsen died.
Bonnichsen was married to Peggy Hays and had three sons, Sven, Shield and Max.
- Bonnichsen, et al. v. United States, et al., no. 02-35994 (9th Cir. Feb. 4, 2004)