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Mystery of the First Americans

Dennis Stanford Dennis Stanford
Claims for the Remains
Dennis Stanford
Chairman, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution

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.

Cast of Kennewick man skull 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.

Does Race Exist? | Meet Kennewick Man
Claims for the Remains | The Dating Game | Resources
Transcript | Site Map | Mystery of the First Americans Home

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