By John Nugent
Politicians and bureaucrats, along with some Indian tribesmen, are trying to cover up the scientific evidence. But ancient bones do not lie, and they seem to prove that Caucasians may have been in the Americas before Mongoloids arrived from the Old World. Is America “white man’s country” after all?
CBS’s interviewer Leslie Stahl said it best on Sixty Minutes: “It was one of those things no one ever doubted. The first people on this continent were the Indians, period. No one had any reason to doubt it. Until now.”1
The town of Kennewick, Washington, population 44,000, says its name means “winter heaven” in an Indian language. But, as a recentWall Street Journal article points out,2 a prehistoric skeleton known as “Kennewick Man” or “Richland Man” has caused a culture-war hell.
In July 1996, two college students stumbled on a human skull and a nearly complete skeleton along a shallow area of the Columbia River in southeastern Washington state. Initially, the county coroner saw it as a classic murder scene, but something didn’t fit. He called in an archeologist, James C. Chatters, who assembled the skeleton on a table. “He looked immediately like a white European [19th century] settler”—as he later told Sixty Minutes—except for one thing: a Clovis spear head stuck in his hip. (Clovis stone technology involves the creation of “bifacial,” i.e., two-sided, blades or flakes of a high degree of sophistication. A similar type of stone weapon is found in France and Spain, where it is known as the Solutrean culture. Some archeologists believe the American Clovis may actually be derived from the European Solutrean.)
Out Kennewick Man went for radiocarbon dating—and came back the 9,400-year-old man. Chatters exulted to CBS’s Leslie Stahl: “It is one of the oldest human skeletons ever found in North America, a scientific treasure.” The political problem: Kennewick Man may have been Caucasian.
Unsurprisingly (if he was white), Kennewick Man was much taller than most Indian skeletons. At 5’8” he even stood an inch taller than the average American Revolutionary War soldier.3
He was also rather long-lived for his era, between 40 and 55 years old. Using established forensic techniques, which show how muscle use could shape bone growth over the years, Chatters determined that Kennewick Man must have “had quite a bit of poise, although he was so beat up, more than anyone I’ve ever seen before.” He had definitely been injured many times, like a battered old quarterback but worse, yet bone growth shows he had probably refused to limp or favor one side as he walked. “He carried himself evenly; there was no grimacing either which affected his facial musculature.”
Chatters suggests that Kennewick Man, based on his skull shape and facial bones, may have resembled macho British actor Patrick Stewart.4
But reconstructions based on mere bones and skulls are always risky; such things as thickness of lips, shape of nose etc. are largely guesswork, and no one can say what sort of skin and hair pigmentation such a fossil man might have had, nor the form and color of his eyes, nor whether his hair was straight or curly. We will never know what language he spoke, or whether his wound was by accident or intentional, nor what his religious beliefs, if any, may have been. We cannot be sure if he was anyone’s ancestor, or if he was the ancestor of all of us.
Chatters is not necessarily claiming that Kennewick Man is white. He says:
“The man lacks definitive characteristics of the classic mongoloid stock to which modern Native Americans belong. The skull is dolichocranic (cranial index 73.8) rather than brachycranic, the face narrow and prognathous rather than broad and flat. Cheekbones recede slightly and lack an inferior zygomatic projection; the lower rim of the orbit is even with the upper. Other features are a long, broad nose that projects markedly from the face and high, round orbits. The mandible is v-shaped, with a pronounced, deep chin. Many of these characteristics are definitive of modern-day Caucasoid people, while others, such as the orbits, are typical of neither race. Dental characteristics fit Turner’s (1983) Sundadont pattern, indicating possible relationship to south Asian peoples.”
Not everyone was pleased with the skeleton, from Indians to the Clinton White House. Armin Minthorn, an Umatilla tribal religious leader, demanded that the scientific find immediately be buried. “We regard human remains as sacred, period.” The Umatilla spokesman said Kennewick Man must be one of their ancestors, thus triggering a 1990 federal law5 that mandates giving any newly found Indian remains or skeletons not being actually used by museums back to the Indians for their own burial procedures.
A total of five Indian tribes and bands claim the remains, and the Indian groups do not agree on what should be done with the skeleton. “The Coleville tribe wants to see that it be studied,” says Chatters, “but the Yakimas, Umatillas and the Nez Perce are demanding to put it right back in the ground.” Chatters did not state how the Wanapum Indian group feels about the matter.
At this point archeologist Chatters felt constrained to drop his “atomic bomb.” Kennewick Man was not an Indian. “This means Indians may not have been the first people in North America.”
The CBS report shows Chatters on the right, examining a typical Indian skull, which was described as “very round.” On the left was Kennewick Man. It was stated that he “would stand out instantly in any Indian group, with his long skull.” Even an amateur physical anthropologist can see that Kennewick Man had a Nordic-type, elongated, narrow-faced skull.
The next expert Stahl interviewed was Douglas Owsley from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who had agreed with Chatters that the find was “terribly significant.” The scientists agreed to fly Kennewick Man from Washington state to Washington, D.C., without further delay.
Fully four prehistoric skeletons, Owsley told Sixty Minutes, have evinced similar non-Indian characteristics, especially the one found in Nevada called “Spirit Cave Man.” An Indian tribe is also trying to bury that skeleton. Leslie Stahl put the issue to Owsley: “Everyone is so nervous about this: Were the Native Americans [i.e., Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts] here first?” Owsley’s reply as a scientist: “He challenges this.”
Says another scientist, paleoanthropologist Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian: “It’s really critical that we be able to capitalize and study the few very rare remains we have. There are just so many questions that can be resolved on the peopling of the Americas if we have a full-scale study of each and every one of these specimens that are found.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the land where Kennewick Man was found, and the Clinton White House controls the corps. It refused the Smithsonian’s re quest to ship Kennewick Man eastward for further study and ordered the bones turned over to the Umatillas for instant burial. “Owsley was beside himself,” Stahl reports. The scientist filed a lawsuit against the politically correct Corps of Engineers. Owsley: “Otherwise the Umatillas would have buried him in a secret grave a long time ago.” U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks rebuked the corps in June 1998 by putting the case on hold and ordering the defendant (the Corps of Engineers) to re evaluate the skeleton. The corps gave the job to the Department of the Interior, which, seven months later, still had not even announced who would be doing the study of what may be the most significant find of American prehistory.
Burying the rest of the scientific site was still another Clinton idea. Dutch Meier, press officer for the Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, Washington, acknowledged the “participation and interest at the executive level” in the Kennewick Man issue. In a December 19, 1997 letter from William Stelle, Jr., regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle to the local commander of the Corps of Engineers, Stelle stated:
“A White House inquiry resulted in the formation of an advisory group made up of representatives from the De partment of Justice, Department of the Interior, and the corps. This advisory group requested that the Walla Walla District corps stabilize roughly 350 feet of shoreline to preserve the archeological site.”
As shown on the Sixty Minutes tape, helicopters and dump trucks suddenly appeared, just hours before a congressionally mandated order to protect the site would have gone into effect, and dumped 2,000 tons of gravel and plant material directly on the dig. Now, trees and plants are growing throughout the site, with their roots penetrating into the scientifically priceless materials, where archeologists had planned to continue their painstaking dig.
“All hope is lost for recovering any more bones of the Kennewick Man skeleton or information relating to his context [tools, campfires etc.] at the site,” said Cleone Hawkinson, a Portland archeologist.
Desecration not being enough, now bone fragments from Kennewick Man, being held by court order at the Burke Museum in Seattle, are disappearing. Of a dozen femur (thigh bone) fragments originally recovered, only two remain. Owsley calls the apparent theft “a deliberate act of desecration” but does not name suspects.
In the Sixty Minutes tape,6 Leslie Stahl cannot resist asking medicine man Minthorn: “You don’t even see what the curiosity is?” “No.” “If you don’t let the studies go forward, how can we find out?” “We don’t want to find out,” was the answer.
1 Oct. 25, 1998.
2 Jan. 8, 1999.
3 The most ordered uniform size in the Continental Army was for a five-foot, seven inches tall male.
4 Stewart is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is also known as “Jean-Luc Picard,” the captain of the star ship Enterprise in the seven-year series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
5 The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
6Available for $35 from CBS.