Science Snapshot: Study of Kennewick Man

"It's not quite CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, but the oldest forensic science case in the country is back in the spotlight. Scientists have presented their evaluation of the remains of a man who died 9,300 years ago, the fruit of a nine-year legal battle for the right to examine the skeleton now known as "Kennewick Man." The bones were found by two boating enthusiasts along the Columbia River in Kennewick, Wash. in 1996.

At last week's American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference in Seattle, Smithsonian Institution scientist Doug Owsley presented results of a "taphonomy" of the bones. Taphonomy is the "study of the transformation of materials into the archaeological record," according to The Penguin Archaeology Guide (I keep a copy on the nightstand), one of those fun science words that basically means, "how this thing got buried."

And Kennewick Man was deliberately buried. A 20-member science team working last year has determined the man's body was likely interred along the river, arms at his side and hands down with head slightly inclined upward, Owsley said. His feet were pointed downstream. The bones had been washed out of their burial place by heavy rains about six weeks before their discovery.

The man had suffered a lot of injuries in his life, perhaps most notably from a dart that left its point embedded in his right hip. Owsley says the stone point was about 2 inches long, and had hit the man from the front, falling at a 77-degree angle to embed in his hip. "Certainly it knocked him down," he says, but the wound appears well-healed."

Get the Story:
Science Snapshot by Dan Vergano: They came to bury Kennewick Man, not praise him (USA Today 2/28)

NAGPRA Amendment Bill:
S.536: Technical Corrections Act

Court Decision:
BONNICHSEN v. US (February 4, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Kennewick Man, Department of Interior -
Friends of America's Past -
Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center, The Tri-City (Washington) Herald -

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