Feb 24, 2006

Kennewick Man Back In The News


(Seattle, WA) The dead man was likely laid to rest beside the Columbia River, his arms at his sides with palms face down, his body inclined with his head slightly raised above his feet.

For more than 9,000 years the remains of this unknown human lay buried, with the river flowing parallel to his body, and his skull pointing upstream. Things changed on June 10, 1996, as the Columbia's waters rose and the a gorged springtime river swept past Kennewick, Washington.

The skeleton was discovered in a few weeks later in the river near the Tri-Cities town of Kennewick. Carbon dating has shown that the bones are about 9,200 years old.

The skeleton created controversy when it was discovered, as the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Colville tribes argued that the skeleton should be reinterred without study; their claim was based upon an interpretation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Douglas Owsley, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, discussed his research in remarks prepared for delivery at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Seattle.

"We know very little about this time period," Owsley said. "This is a rare opportunity to try and reconstruct the life story of this man. This is his opportunity to tell us what life was like during that time."

The “Clovis” model best represented the conventional mid-to-late twentieth century view of the earliest North American peoples; an archaeological site near Clovis, New Mexico is the source of the group name. This model posited that the first humans in the Americas traveled from northeast Asia across Beringia, a land mass located in the present-day Bering Strait that was uncovered by lowered sea levels in the late Pleistocene. Clovis proponents set a date of 12,000 BP (before present) as the earliest instance from which entry into the Americas could have occurred, as glacial masses would have prevented earlier travel beyond Beringia.

The Clovis model, however, has fallen out of favor in the last decade; a number of recent archaeological discoveries have undermined the accuracy of the model. A site at Mount Verde, Chile posed particular problems for the Clovis model, as radiocarbon dating established a date of 12,500 BP for the site. While only 500-1000 years before the Clovis model (at the far end of the margin of error for radiocarbon dating), the idea that nomadic peoples could travel from Alaska to Chile in such a short window of time borders on the fantastic. In addition, there are many archaeological differences between the Clovis model and the Mount Verde site; spear points, for example, are of much different formulation than fluted spear points associated with the Clovis people.

Further difficulty for the Clovis model arose in 1996, when two young men discovered the skull of Kennewick the Columbia River; while radiocarbon dating of the remains was estimated at 9,200 BP (before present), the distinctive lack of Native American features made him an archaeological anomaly. Cranial analysis indicated that the features were more consistent with a European or South Asian human, while dental analysis suggested a person with Polynesian ancestry. In any case, the distinctive features that Native Americans typically share with North Asian peoples were not found in the Kennewick Man.

Using a CT scanner, Owsley was able to study the skeleton in fine sections and also get a better look at a spear or dart tip embedded in Kennewick man's hip.

The point has previously been described as a Cascade point, typical of the region, but Owsley said that is not the case. Cascade points tend to have two pointed ends and are sometimes serrated, he said, while the point in Kennewick man has a pointed end and a stem.

The point was not the cause of death, he said, adding that thew wound was "a healed injury."

"There was no clear indication in the skeleton of cause of death," Owsley said. Kennewick man had undergone "a lot of injuries, this guy was tough as nails."


Anonymous said...

Kennewick Man looks like Patrick Stewart from Star Trek.

historymike said...

Actually, he DOES sort of look like Patrick Stewart.

With a bigger forehead, though.

Stephanie said...

Would this then give more fodder to the theory that there was travel through the Polynesian islands far sooner than earlier anticipated?

liberal_dem said...

Gosh, Mike, I thought, according to some religious zealots, that the world was only about 6000 years old.

Oh, well, so much for that myth. So many more, though...

historymike said...

Could be, Stephanie. Some archaeologists posit a cross-Pacific infusion of peoples in the Neolithic period.