Why should scientists be allowed to study the Kennewick skeleton?
The study of human skeletal remains has been a component of biological
anthropology since its origins 200 years ago. Human skeletons provide
information about the past that is unobtainable from any other source, e.g.,
specific dietary components, activities, health, and genetic relationships.
Kennewick Man in particular provides a window into a little-known time and
place, and it is important in defining the early populations of the Americas.
Of the 10 or so skeletons in the United States dating to 9000 before present or older, it
is one of the best preserved. As such it constitutes over 10 percent of the
evidence nationally. But in the Northwest-Plateau area, it constitutes well
over 50 percent of the evidence.
Skeletal remains help tell the story of human history; it is a history to which
everyone is entitled. Access to human history should not be restricted by the
government, nor should it be controlled by small groups of people.
What would I personally hope to learn?
My interest is in the patterns of skeletal variation temporally and
geographically in prehistoric North America. Kennewick Man represents a time
period from which there are few skeletons, so patterns are difficult to
ascertain. Kennewick Man can contribute to two major questions in which I have
Certain ancient skeletons,
such as Spirit Cave Man (reconstructed above) and Kennewick Man, appear to represent different
regional populations—a finding that is forcing anthropologists to rewrite the
history of the first Americans.
Geographic variation among early populations. Limited evidence suggests
the existence of regional groups. For example, the Minnesota specimens, Browns
Valley and Pelican Rapids, are markedly different from Great Basin groups
represented by Spirit Cave and Wizards Beach. The western skeletons seem to
exhibit greater similarities to Pacific populations, suggesting coastal
migration routes rather than the more commonly postulated Bering Land Bridge
route. Preliminary evidence indicates Kennewick Man is differentiated from
other ancient skeletons, suggesting another population.
Relationships between early populations and recent Native Americans.
Current evidence demonstrates that early populations differ markedly from
recent ones. The reason for these differences has yet to be determined.
Possibilities include: (a) substantial evolutionary change took place, or (b)
early populations contributed little to the ancestry of recent Native
Americans. Kennewick Man can make a substantial contribution to answering these