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
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.