It is my view that many roads lead toward knowledge, and the unexpected is
often encountered along the journey. Discovery of the remains of a man who
lived along the Columbia River 9,000 years ago was itself a surprise. A further
wonder is the marvelous story this individual can tell about life in
prehistoric America. Should this elder be silenced because people in modern
times presumed they already understood all he could teach?
The process by which the Americas were peopled, initially and through time, is
a multifaceted story with many chapters. Much of this narrative is not well
understood. No particular group—be it governmental, ethnic, or scientific—can respectfully claim that their path to understanding this story is
paramount. Should a single interpretation or understanding of the course of
events thousands of years ago become the accepted truth for all concerned? Such
issues were at stake when we challenged the decision by the Army Corps of
Engineers to rebury the Kennewick individual without study.
Reburial without scientific study and verification by interdisciplinary
researchers would deny present and future generations the opportunity to learn
and to benefit from significant new information. Preliminary studies indicate
that Kennewick Man may tell a different story about the origins and lifestyles
of early peoples in North America than that written in textbooks. He may
illuminate a past more rich and complex than currently imagined.
Kennewick Man, a cast of whose skull appears here,
has the potential to force anthropologists to revise textbooks on the early
peopling of North America, Stanford says.
Although publicity by the popular press has often cast the Kennewick case as an
adversarial conflict between scientists and Native Americans, there are
precedents whereby the religious concerns of Native groups and the respectful
study of prehistoric peoples by anthropologists have proceeded in a
cooperative, collaborative manner. Researchers of many ethnic backgrounds,
having special expertise in unraveling biological, genetic, linguistic, and
archeological clues regarding prehistoric populations and technological
advances, are providing researchers with unprecedented tools for learning about
the past. Likewise, American Indian religious systems, oral traditions, and
culturally based understanding can be brought to bear in interpretations of
archeological remains that are older than the experience of any living person.
By respectfully combining both approaches to knowledge, we will be able to gain
greater insights regarding the significance of the Kennewick find.