It was an Internet meme that repeatedly appeared in emails and social media posts to me that restarted my curiosity about the archaeological work around the so-called Kennewick Man.
Shortly following the public release of the results of facial reconstruction work on the prehistoric skull, comparisons were made with television, film, and stage actor Patrick Stewart. I enjoyed looking at the side by side photo comparison. I thought that Captain Jean-Luc Picard might have entered some sort of real-life “space-time continuum”. The actual discovery of the Kennewick Man would make a stunning Star Trek movie.
I can imagine the film opening sequence depicting the two hydroplane boat racing enthusiasts discovering a skull while attending an annual racing event on the banks of a Columbia River reservoir. As archeologists discover and piece together more bones, Patrick Stewart could depict the Kennewick Man in “flashback” scenes about the “ancient one’s” life. In my fictional version, archeologists would discover that Kennewick Man was Captain Picard who had gotten caught in a time warp that brought him back in time to prehistory. If you’re a screenwriter or novelist and use this plot, be sure to include me in the credits.
On July 28, 1996 the human remains were discovered at Lake Wallula, the waters behind the McNary Dam near Kennewick in Washington State. Within days, claims were made by the area’s Indian tribes, the scientific community, and the US Army Corps of Engineers, who has jurisdiction over the dam. Just who could possess and study the “Ancient One” ended up as a Federal court case.
Two years later, the National Park Service and the Corps of Engineers conducted several archeological exams of the bones. The scientists performed current and standard techniques on the remains, the sediment within the bones and a stone speartip that was embedded in the man’s pelvis.
Radiocarbon tests determined that the Ancient One lived approximately 8,500 to 9,000 years ago. They also determined that the man had lived with part of the speartip embedded in his hip because researchers discovered that the bone had partially grown around the projectile.
What remained, was the controversy over the man’s tribal ancestry. Some studies claimed that the Kennewick Man’s physical structure was very similar to Japan’s indigenous Ainu people. As late as last year, researchers compared the Ancient One to the anatomy of Polynesian peoples. Meantime, regional Indian advocates held fast to their argument that the Ancient One’s closest descendents are Native Americans.
The results of the latest study of DNA samples taken from one of the Kennewick Man’s hand bones were released this June. The journal “Nature”, says the results contradict last year’s suggestion that the skeleton may have been that of a Japanese or Polynesian man.
Scientists compared the skeleton’s DNA to samples from modern Native Americans and other global populations. Stanford University genetics researcher, Morten Rasmussen, said the results showed that the Kennewick Man was more closely related to American Indians and not the populations of any other peoples.
The closest match is with some members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the same group who has been advocating for the return of the remains to their custody. The legal dispute remains unresolved. Native advocates hope that the skeleton can be returned under the terms of the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act”. Meantime, archaeologists lay claim to the relics under the auspices of “The Archaeological Resources Protection Act”.