- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2005

SEATTLE — Cloistered around padded tables, scientists from across 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 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.

“This individual’s biography is written in his bones,” said Hugh Berryman, a forensic anthropologist from Middle Tennessee State University. “This is a window into the past.”

Scientists have been cataloging some previously unidentified pieces and reevaluating others. They also have been measuring remains, examining cracks and breaks in the bones and studying various discoloration in an attempt to put together Kennewick Man’s past.

Likening it to a painting by Rembrandt, Mr. 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,” Mr. Berryman said as he pointed to ice-blue translucent plastic models of a skull and pelvis, sitting atop a boardroom table at the Best Western University Tower Hotel near the university.

“There appears to be some European-type facial features.”

That, he said, could suggest there were migrations of people other than those strictly out of Asia.

Certain skull measurements, including the shorter face and decreased width across the cheekbones, don’t match those traditionally associated with American Indian characteristics, said Douglas W. Owsley, a forensic anthropologist with the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Those observations have been part of the nine-year legal battle between researchers and Northwest American 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 said 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 remains.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, agreeing with a decision by a federal judge in Portland, Ore., ruled there was no link between the skeleton and the tribes.

The taphonomic 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. They ultimately will 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 a permanent cast to be used for additional research and to minimize impact to the skeleton.

Later, researchers will be analyzing samples taken from fragments of the leg during government studies in 1999 and 2000. The Army Corps has planned no public viewing of the remains.

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