Found 9600 yr old skeleton

Dave Schafer (
Fri, 06 Sep 1996 00:52:23 +0000

I'm a newspaper reporter in Kennewick, Wash. covering news about a skeleton just
recently uncovered in a city park. I'm looking for any perspectives people might share
and hopefully find a few credible sources I might use in these continuing stories.

I'll check back at this newsgroup (I'm not a regular) but ask that anyone with
particular insight or advice (or willingness to receive a phone call) email me at


Here's the background:

July 28 two men found a skull in the Columbia River. They called police, who
called in a local forensic anthropologist and the county coroner. First examination
suggested it was probably a white settler (he had traditionally European features) who
was buried at his homestead.

A couple of weeks later they sent a bone to UC-Riverside and carbon dating put
the remains at 9,200 to 9,600 years old. Needless to say, people are getting quite
excited. However, here's what's happening now: American Indian tribal leaders say the
bones are those of their ancient ancestor and they want them reburied. But the
anthropologist said the skeleton doesn't show the characteristics of American Indian
ancestors, but more European-like qualities. He thinks it ought to be studied.

The controversy is just starting to brew, but for now the bones are being held
by the Corps of Engineers, since they own the park.

1. How remarkable is this find and the fact the anthropologist says it doesn't have the
traditional American Indian characteristics?
The man was about 5 feet 9 inches tall, had a long face and big nose. His skull
isn't flattened. Flattened skulls are apparently characteristic of American Indian
remains in the area, since they used cradle boards. His teeth are also good. That's said
to be unusual because more recent skulls have very worn teeth from the high fiber and
grit in the diet.
He also had a stone spearhead stuck in his leg bone and his ribs were crushed in
several places, but he survived the injury (at least for a while). The anthropologist
said he lived for some time with a withered arm and appears to have died from some sort
of infection, between the age of 45 and 55.

2. If humans came to the Northwest over a landbridge from Asia, where could this guy
have come from (given his physical characteristics)?

3. Do federal laws that govern the handling of Native American remains apply to remains
this old?

4. What are some other current examples in the country where laws or the debate over
ownership of human remains are keeping the bones from being either buried or studied?

5. What am I missing in all of this? Is there a more important question I haven't asked?

Any help would be appreciated.

Dave Schafer
Tri-City Herald newspaper
Tri-Cities, Wash.