MITCHELL, Associated Press Writer
SEATTLE - Cloistered
around padded tables, scientists from around the
country have been peering through microscopes
and measuring bone fragments trying to unearth
the history of an ancient skeleton found along
the Columbia River.
Researchers on Sunday
offered details of their first comprehensive
study of the 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man, one
of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever
found in North America.
The team of
anthropologists, geochemists and data analysts
have been busy assembling the skeleton's more
than 300 bones and bone fragments at the
University of Washington's Burke Museum of
Natural History and Culture, where the remains
have been since 1998.
biography is written in his bones," said Dr.
Hugh Berryman, a forensic anthropologist from
Middle Tennessee State University. "This is a
window into the past."
Scientists have been
cataloguing some previously unidentified pieces
and reevaluating others. They've also been
measuring remains, examining cracks and breaks
in the bones and studying various discoloration
in an attempt to put Kennewick Man's past
Likening it to a
Rembrandt, Berryman said scientists early on
knew the skeleton had much to offer because of
its age and completeness.
"I'm very interested in
that skull," Berryman said as he pointed to
ice-blue translucent plastic models of a skull
and pelvis, sitting atop a boardroom table at
the University Towers hotel near the university.
"There appears to be
some European-type facial features." That, he
said, could suggest there were other migrations
of people other than those strictly out of Asia.
measurements, including the shorter face and
less width across the cheekbones, don't match
that traditionally associated with Native
American characteristics, said Dr. Douglas W.
Owsley, a forensic anthropologist with the
National Museum of Natural History at the
in Washington, D.C.
Those observations have
been part of the nine-year legal battle between
researchers and Northwest Indian tribes.
After the skeleton was
found by two college students along the banks of
the Columbia in 1996, the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez
Perce and Colville tribes wanted the bones
reburied without scientific study. They claimed
they were entitled to the bones under the Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers owned the land where the remains were
found and was set to relinquish the bones. But
scientists sued for a chance to study the
Last year a three-judge
panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,
agreeing with an earlier decision by a federal
judge in Portland, Ore., ruled there was no link
between the skeleton and the tribes.
The taphonomic, or
forensic, study scientists will perform during
their 10-day examination will help determine the
effects that weather and animals had on
Kennewick Man's remains after death. Ultimately,
they'll focus on identifying his origins, and
how he lived and died.
Models of the skull and
pelvis, which has a projectile — perhaps a
spearhead — embedded in a hip, will be used to
construct permanent cast to be used for
additional research and to minimize impact to
the actual skeleton.
Later, researchers will
be analyzing samples taken from fragments of the
leg during government studies in 1999 and 2000.
No public viewing of
the remains is yet planned by the Army Corps.