I attended University from 1964 through 1968. I took classes in geology – plate tectonics was considered to be a crazy fringe theory, it’s now accepted fact. I took physics classes, mostly Newtonian with lots a math a formulas – modern physics often looks more like philosophy than science. I also took courses in anthropology and at the time it was assumed that America was originally settled by peoples from Siberia crossing over the land bridge between Siberia and what is now known as Alaska.
There had been a few discoveries that had put into question the Siberia/land bridge theory but nothing more spectacular the the discovery of the nearly complete skeleton of the Kennewick Man on the shores of the Columbia River in 1996. Judging from the shape of the skull it was assumed the remains were those of an early settler or trapper. But then an ancient stone spear point was found in the hip of the remains.
The completeness and unusually good condition of the skeleton, presence of caucasoid traits, lack of definitive Native-American characteristics, and the association with an early homestead led me to suspect that the bones represented a European settler. I first began to question this when I detected a gray object partially healed within the right ilium. CT scans revealed the 20 by 54 mm base of a leaf-shaped, serrated Cascade projectile point typical of Southern Plateau assemblages from 8500 B.P. to 4500 B.P. However, similar styles were in use elsewhere in western North America and Australia into the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the point raised the possibility of great antiquity, while the skeleton’s traits argued for the early nineteenth century. We either had an ancient individual with physical characteristics unlike later native peoples’ or a trapper/explorer who’d had difficulties with “stone-age” peoples during his travels. To resolve this issue, the Coroner ordered radiocarbon and DNA analyses.
A sample was sent out for radio carbon dating and it was determined the remains were 9,600 years old. And then the politics and legal battles began. According to the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act the local Native Americans could claim the remains and that’s what they wanted to do. Thanks to the early findings the courts have ruled that the local tribes cannot prove ancestory so the skeleton remains the property of the BLM and is kept at the Burke Museum and study continues to this day.
So if he was not related to Modern Native Americans who was the Kennewick Man. The general consensus now is that he most closely resembles the indigenous Japanese people the Ainu. On my many trips to Japan I have been in areas with a large Ainu population and it’s true, they do look more European than Japanese. So how did he get here? There has been some rather sketchy indications that early inhabitants of North America may have arrived by boat found in British Columbia.
A break from politics and some fun facts for a Saturday.