The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Kennewick Man

Examples of pathological conditions present in the Kennewick skeleton
Examples of pathological conditions present in the Kennewick skeleton

Kennewick Man is the name for the remains of a prehistoric man found on a bank of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington, on July 28, 1996. The discovery of Kennewick Man was accidental; a pair of spectators at the yearly hydroplane races found his skull while swimming in the Columbia River. [1]

It has a very high religious and historical value, and four Native American groups (the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, and Colville) claimed it to be buried by traditional means. Only Umatillas continued further court proceeding but gave up in for the final Supreme Court. The remains will therefore be preserved.


Scientific significance

The remains were initially given to forensic anthropologists , who studied them until it was determined that the remains were of a man who lived approximately 9000 years ago. Both carbon dating (although unreliable in cases such as this due to contamination), and a spear head lodged in the hip of the skeleton, a Clovis spear, pointed to a very old date. A controversy emerged when an analysis of the bones' features suggested "caucasoid" descent. However, this is nothing uncommon for Native Americans, since research have shown some groups have caucasic genes. A reconstruction of the skull revealed a person similar in appearance to Patrick Stewart.

The history of the colonization of North America by humans, once thought to have occurred fundamentally by migration across the Bering Strait land bridge during the most recent ice age, has increasingly been revealed by archaeological evidence to be much more complex; multiple waves of humans have apparently made the journey, via different means and from different regions. Kennewick Man may be evidence of such a colonization wave.

For what it's worth, modern Indians generally have dolichocranic skulls and narrow, prognathous faces, but apparently the plaintiffs were unaware of this. In fact, many of the "differences" between Kennewick man and modern Indians actually end up with Caucasians between Kennewick man and East Asians, and either modern Indians either between Caucasians and Kennewick man or Kennewick man between modern Indians and Caucasians. Chatters et al. seem to have engaged in a type of pious fraud, particularly in the realm of prognathism; Caucasians are the most orthognathous racial category.

Ownership controversy

According to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, if human remains are found on federal lands and their cultural affiliation can be established, the bones must be returned to the affiliated tribe. The Umatilla Tribe of Native Americans then requested the remains back, wanting to bury them according to tribal tradition. However, their claim has been contested by researchers hoping to study the remains; if Kennewick Man has no direct connection to modern-day native tribes, then NAGPRA wouldn't apply. The remains are at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.

On February 4, 2004, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected the appeal of the Umatilla, Colville, Yakama, Nez Perce and other tribes on the grounds that they had not given any proof of kinship. As of the week of July 24, 2004, the tribes have released their claims for custody. (New York Times)

Further reading

External links

  • National Park Service AEP: Kennewick Man (all text and images from this site are in the public domain)
  • Burke Museum
  • Friends of America's Past - source for court documents; calendar of extraordinary events related to this case
  • The Umatilla Tribe's official position

Last updated: 05-07-2005 03:34:02
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04