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Kennewick Man

F.P. McManamon, May 2004

The human skeletal remains that have come to be referred to as the "Kennewick Man", or the "Ancient One", were found in July, 1996 below the surface of Lake Wallula, a section of the Columbia River pooled behind McNary Dam in Kennewick, Washington. Almost immediately controversy developed regarding who was responsible for determining what would be done with the remains. Claims were made by Indian tribes, local officials, and some members of the scientific community. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), the agency responsible for the land where the remains were recovered took possession, but its actions, following the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), to resolve the situation were challenged in Federal court.

In March, 1998, the Department of the Interior and National Park Service agreed to assist the COE in resolving some of the issues related to the Federal case. The documents on these Kennewick Man pages provide background information and detailed reports of aspects of the work being done by DOI on this matter.

Between 1998 and 2000, the Department of the Interior and National Park Service, in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for the Kennewick remains, conducted a series of scientific examinations of the remains. No fewer than eighteen nationally and internationally recognized scientists and scholars conducted this variety of historical and scientific examinations, analyses, tests, and studies (Table 1).

Table 1: DOI/NPS Kennewick Man Scientific Investigations

Investigations and Dates Scientists and Institutions
  1. Peer Review of NPS Research Design
    November-December, 1998
  • Dr. Bruce Smith, Smithsonian Institution
  • Dr. Clark Larsen, University of North Carolina
  1. Physical Examination of the Kennewick Remains
    February, 1999
  1. C14 Dating of Kennewick Remains
    September-November, 1999
  1. Cultural Affiliation Report
    November, 1999-February, 2000
  1. Physical Examination of Kennewick Remains; Analysis of organic content of bone samples; Sample Selection for ancient DNA analysis
    April, 2000
  1. Tests of Bone Samples for Ancient DNA
    June-September, 2000
  1. Potential for DNA Testing
    December, 1999

The Kennewick skeleton was physically examined, measured, and recorded using current and standard scientific methods and techniques (McManamon 1999; Powell and Rose 1999). Sediments adhering to the bones and trapped within bone cavities were described and analyzed for similarity with the soil sediments in the vicinity of the discovery of the skeletal remains (Huckleberry and Stein 1999). The stone projectile point embedded in the skeleton's pelvis was described and analyzed (Fagan 1999).

Bone samples were taken and dated to confirm the ancient date for the remains (McManamon 2000). A taphonomic study of the bones, including a second detailed physical examination, recording, and analysis of the remains, was conducted (McManamon, Roberts, and Blades 2000b; Smith 2000; Taylor 2000; Walker, Larsen, and Powell 2000). Parts of the skeleton were examined using computer tomography (CT), CAT scans, and standard X-rays. Radiocarbon laboratories at the University of California--Riverside, the University of Arizona, and Beta Analytical conducted AMS carbon 14 dating of the remains (McManamon 2000). Ancient DNA laboratories at the University of California--Davis, the University of Michigan, and Yale University attempted to isolate and amplify ancient DNA from the skeleton (Kaestle 2000; Merriwether and Cabana 2000; Smith, Malhi, Eshleman, and Kaestle 2000).

A set of reports summarizing archeological, biological, historical, linguistic, and traditional information used for determining the cultural affiliation of the remains were conducted by regional researchers and scholars (McManamon, Roberts, and Blades 2000a; Ames 2000; Boxberger 2000; Hunn 2000; Hackenberger 2000).

Collectively, these investigations have yielded five major scientific reports that are posted on this website, which was established by the National Park Service to disseminate information about the case and the scientific results. Over 4,000 users visit this website each month.

Some commentators and reporters have described the legal controversy swirling around the Kennewick remains in rather super-heated rhetoric pitting the interests of “science” against those of traditional Native Americans. This characterization ignores the detailed, intensive, and wide-ranging scientific investigation of the Kennewick remains undertaken to determine the facts relevant to the questions in the case and report them.

Many news reports have inaccurately suggested that scientific study of the Kennewick remains has not occurred, or is being hidden from the American public. In fact, this is quite untrue. A number of studies have been conducted and reported on. These studies are easily accessible for use by other scientists and interested members of the public. Table 1 lists the studies and scientists who have carried them out.

Opinions differ on the interpretation of evidence and the law in the complex and unusual case of the Kennewick Man. This case has been surrounded with controversy from the very beginning. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the various decisions and positions as this case works its way through the federal court system, the thoroughness and objectivity of the government scientific investigations, the expertise of the investigating scientists, and the value of the information obtained should not be ignored.

Letter from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera Regarding Disposition of the Kennewick Human Remains [September 21, 2000]

Enclosure 1: Determination That the Kennewick Human Skeletal Remains are "Native American" for the Purposes of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)
Memorandum from the Departmental Consulting Archeologist to the Assistant Secretary, Fish and Wildlife and Parks

Enclosure 2: Comparison between Studies Initiated by the Department of the Interior on the Kennewick Human Remains and Those Requested and Recommended by Plaintiffs (Bonnichsen et al. v. United States)

Enclosure 3: Human Culture in the Southeastern Columbia Plateau, 9500-9000 BP and Cultural Affiliation with Present-day Tribes.
A Summary of the Evidence. Department of the Interior.

Enclosure 4: NAGPRA and the Disposition of the Kennewick Human Remains.
Memorandum from the Solicitor to the Secretary of the Interior.

  Attachment A: Outline for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation's (Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla) Petition Brought before the ICC

  Attachment B: Review of the United States Indian Claims Commission's Decisions to Identify Cases Resolved through Compromise Settlements

Cultural Affiliation Report [September 2000]

Chapter 1: Background and Scope for the Cultural Affiliation Reports
Francis P. McManamon, Jason C. Roberts, and Brooke S. Blades

Chapter 2: Review of the Archaeological Data
Kenneth M. Ames

Chapter 3: Review of Traditional Historical and Ethnographic Information
Daniel L. Boxberger

Chapter 4: Review of Linguistic Information
Eugene S. Hunn

Chapter 5: Cultural Affiliation Study of the Kennewick Human Remains: Review of Bio-Archaeological Information
Steven Hackenberger

Report on the DNA Testing Results of the Kennewick Human Remains from Columbia Park, Kennewick, Washington [September 2000]

Chapter 1: Examination of the Kennewick Remains—Taphonomy, Micro-sampling, and DNA Analysis
Francis P. McManamon, Jason C. Roberts, and Brooke S. Blades

  Attachment A: A Review of Documents and Evidence Pertaining to the Suitability of the Skeletal Remains from Kennewick, Washington, for DNA Studies
David G. Smith

  Attachment B: Amino Acid Composition and Stable Carbon Isotope Values on Kennewick Skeleton Bone
R. E. Taylor

Chapter 2: Report on DNA Analysis of the Remains of "Kennewick Man" from Columbia Park, Washington
Federica A. Kaestle

Chapter 3: Kennewick Man Ancient DNA Analysis: Final Report Submitted to the Department of the Interior, National Park Service
D. Andrew Merriwether and Graciela S. Cabana

Chapter 4: Report on DNA Analysis of the Remains of "Kennewick Man" from Columbia Park, Washington
David G. Smith, Ripan S. Malhi, Jason A. Eshleman, and Frederica A. Kaestle

Chapter 5: Final Report on the Physical Examination and Taphonomic Assessment of the Kennewick Human Remains (CENWW.97.Kennewick) to Assist with DNA Sample Selection
Philip L. Walker, Clark Spencer Larsen, and Joseph F. Powell

Potential for DNA Testing of the Human Remains from Columbia Park, Kennewick, Washington [Feb. 3, 2000]

Memorandum: Results of Radiocarbon Dating the Kennewick Human Skeletal Remains [Jan. 13, 2000]

Report on the Non-Destructive Examination, Description, and Analysis of the Human Remains from Columbia Park, Kennewick, Washington [October 1999]

Chapter 1: The Initial Scientific Examination, Description, and Analysis of the Kennewick Man Human Remains
Francis P. McManamon

Chapter 2: Report on the Osteological Assessment of the "Kennewick Man" Skeleton (CENWW.97.Kennewick)
Joseph F. Powell and Jerome C. Rose

Chapter 3: Analysis of Sediments Associated with Human Remains Found at Columbia Park, Kennewick, WA
Gary Huckleberry and Julie K. Stein

Chapter 4: Analysis of Lithic Artifact Embedded in the Columbia Park Remains
John L. Fagan
DOI Press Releases [Oct. 29, 1998 - Sept. 25, 2000]

Interagency Agreement Between DOA and DOI on the Delegation of Responsibilities for the Kennewick Human Remains [March 24, 1998]

Letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding questions about Kennewick Man [Dec. 23, 1997]

  Letter from Secretary of the Interior Regarding Disposition of the Kennewick Human Remains  
  Cultural Affiliation Report  
  DNA Testing Results  
  Potential for DNA Testing  
  Radiocarbon Dating Results  
  Non-Destructive Examination Report  
  DOI Press Releases  
  Interagency Agreement on Responsibilities for Kennewick Remains  
  Letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding questions about Kennewick Man