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Office of the Secretary, DOI
For Release: April 21, 2000
Contact: Stephanie Hanna (O)

            (Burke Museum)
            Cathy McDonald (O)

Scientific Team to Conduct Post Mortem Studies of Bones to learn more about Burial Treatment and Environmental Conditions

Under the direction of the Department of the Interior, an expert scientific team will be at the Burke Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Seattle, Washington, next week to conduct the first steps in the DNA analysis of the human skeletal remains known as Kennewick Man.

The scientific team will be made up of three physical anthropologists, two experts in bone chemistry and DNA analysis, and two experienced archaeological conservators. The team will carry out taphonomic and bone analysis studies under the direction of Dr. Francis McManamon, Chief Archaeologist of the National Park Service. Dr. Michael Trimble, Chief Curator for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and his staff will direct the curation of the bones and their safe and respectful handling, and Laura Phillips, Collections Manager for the Burke Museum, will oversee activities involving the Kennewick remains during the time the scientific team is at the Burke.

On Tuesday, April 25, at 4:00 p.m., Dr. McManamon and available members of the scientific team will meet with media at the Burke Museum to discuss the scientific investigations and the role this work will play in assisting the Interior Department to make a determination of cultural affiliation or shared group identity between Kennewick Man and the five Indian tribes that have claimed him as their ancient ancestor.

The purpose of the scientific analyses is to conduct a more thorough assessment of the skeletal elements in order to learn about the cultural treatment and environmental factors that affected the Kennewick remains post mortem. Since the skeletal remains were found scattered in the shallows of the Columbia River, this information cannot be acquired from the archaeological context where they are presumed to have originally lain after death more than 9,000 years ago.

The assessment by the physical anthropologists will include analyses that focus on characteristics of bone surfaces for coloration, staining, weathering, fracture patterns, rodent or carnivore gnawing, and what might be learned about the original burial orientation of the skeleton by patterns of sediment deposition on the remains.

"There were some initial observations included in the reports by Drs. Joseph Powell and Jerome Rose [from the first scientific investigations in February,1999] that Kennewick Man may have been intentionally buried soon after death and that red ochre or some kind of staining might have been applied to his body before burial," Dr. McManamon said. "This second scientific assessment will give us greater opportunities to learn about the post mortem treatment and environment of the bones. I'm hopeful the team may provide more clues about this ancient man's environment. One of the things that makes this remarkable discovery intriguing is that a nearly complete and very ancient human skeleton was found whose exact burial treatment can never be precisely known."

Additionally, the post mortem anthropological and taphonomic analyses will aide the team to identify bones most likely to provide sufficient collagen protein for DNA analysis. Small amounts of several selected bones will be micro-sampled and analyzed at the University of California at Riverside prior to selecting any additional bone samples for DNA analysis. Wide variations in the amount of collagen protein in the bone samples sent for radiocarbon dating indicate the need for micro sampling. The results of the micro-sampling will determine if it is feasible to provide sufficient uncontaminated collagen protein from such ancient bone to undertake DNA analysis.

"All of this will assist the Interior Department in determining if there is a shared group identity or cultural affiliation between Kennewick Man and present day Indian tribes," McManamon explained. "The Interior Department believes that DNA analysis could be useful in this circumstance because of the many peculiarities of this case. We hope the team's efforts can also help us answer if DNA analysis is possible. I am gratified and excited that this group of scientists, whose credentials and experience are second to none, have agreed to assist us and contribute to everyone's understanding of Kennewick Man."

The scientific team that begins work on Tuesday, April 25, will be made up of:

  • Dr. Joseph Powell from the University of New Mexico, a physical anthropologist who has examined most of the ancient skeletal remains in the North and South America, and who was a member of the first scientific team investigating Kennewick Man.
  • Dr. Clark Larsen of the University of North Carolina, president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and an expert on the interpretation of life ways from skeletal examination.
  • Dr. Phillip Walker from the University of California at Santa Barbara, an expert in taphonomic examination, interpretation, and determining life ways from skeletal examination.
  • Dr. R.E. Taylor from the University of California at Riverside, an expert in bone structure, bone chemistry, radiometric dating and analysis techniques.
  • Dr. David G. Smith from the University of California at Davis, an expert in anthropological genetics and DNA analysis of early human remains.
  • Dr. Vicki Cassman of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, an expert in archaeological conservation.
  • Dr. Nancy Odegaard of the University of Arizona, an expert in archaeological conservation.

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