Claims for the Remains C. Vance Haynes, Jr.
Regent's Professor, Department of Anthropology and Geosciences, University of Arizona
On October 3, 1996, upon hearing about the Army Corps of Engineers intention of
repatriating the Kennewick Man bones, I wrote to Maj. Gen. Ernest J. Harrell,
Commander of the North Pacific Division. I pointed out that if it really is as
old as the radiocarbon age indicated, "its value to science, and therefore to
better understanding the peopling of the Americas, is paramount. Our knowledge
regarding this important and fascinating question is based upon the scientific
study of less than a dozen specimens found over the last 100 years.
Furthermore, most of the specimens over 8,000 years old are either poorly
preserved or are subadults and, therefore, much less informative than well
For these reasons, the Kennewick skeleton should be studied by some highly
qualified physical anthropologists before it is reburied. Furthermore, the
population affinities of the skeleton are very important questions that, even
if morphological data are inconclusive, may be answerable by DNA testing if the
bone is adequately preserved. This could also determine to whom the remains
should be repatriated.
Detailed study and analysis of the geologic context of the Kennewick find site
is important for confirming the age indicated by radiocarbon dating and for
determining the nature of the occurrence, i.e., accidental burial by river
processes or interment via human activity. Geological strata are like pages in
the book of time and need to be read by qualified experts to learn what
happened at the Kennewick find site.
Kennewick Man buried by nature or by his compatriots? Only detailed study of
the riverside site where he was found will tell, says Haynes.
I have tremendous respect for American Indians and their culture. In regard to
those whose understanding of nature is prescribed by tribal mythology and
religion, I respect their concern for proper treatment of their dead, but there
must be clear genetic or cultural connection for repatriation. For skeletal
remains that are thousands of years old, demonstration of an actual genetic
connection may be possible but requires detailed scientific study.
For me and many scientists, the understanding of nature is based upon
scientific investigations that add to humankind's ever increasing fund of
knowledge. The fund is ever changing as new generations of scientists add to,
debate, and reinterpret the data. For those who have devoted their lives to
better understanding the peopling of the New World, the Kennewick find is a
rare opportunity for a significant increase in knowledge about who the early
Americans were and how they relate to living tribes.