Why do we feel we should be able to study Kennewick Man? Ancient human skeletal
remains are a valuable source of scientific information and are protected as
archeological resources under federal law (the Archaeological Resources
Protection Act). As a trained physical anthropologist at a state institution, I
have the legal and ethical responsibility to curate, study, protect, and
sometimes repatriate the human skeletons that come to my laboratory. From human
skeletons, we can derive information relating to human diseases, injury,
warfare, origins, migrations, and gene flow. The more ancient skeletons as well
as the better preserved ones tend to be more important skeletons scientifically
because of the vast amount of new information that they can provide.
Kennewick Man may be one of the most important skeletons ever unearthed in
North America. It is a very ancient skeleton and therefore not a close relative
of any human alive today. Thus, claims of cultural or biological affinity by
any group existing today are so tenuous that they should not be allowed to
prevent scientific study of this important find. The skeleton should remain in
the domain of all humanity and not be claimed by any single federal agency or
any single religious or cultural group. It should be studied by all qualified
scientists whose research might be able to provide new knowledge from the
secrets that these ancient bones contain.
Kennewick Man, whose reconstructed skull is shown here, should remain in the
public domain, Gill feels.
What do I personally expect to learn from studying the Kennewick skeleton?
I am a forensic anthropologist with a research focus on skeletal race
attribution (learning ancestry from bone traits). Most of the successful
methods that I have developed and published in leading journals relate to
distinguishing American Indians from whites skeletally. Certain single
approaches are over 90 percent accurate in separating modern whites from modern
American Indians. Interestingly, traits of both of these populations are found
among individuals of the early Archaic and Paleo-Indian period. Certainly the
Kennewick skeleton should be assessed with regard to these trait occurrences.
These are not the multivariate, cranial-measurement approaches used by most
other physical anthropologists who study ancestry. They constitute a somewhat
independent approach. My approach would provide another independent means of
determining ancestry through a combination of different kinds of trait
evaluations. In short, my approach will hopefully provide us with insight to
help answer the question of who Kennewick Man's closest relatives were in
regard to the major racial elements of today.