Kennewick Man, the roughly 9,000-year-old skeleton found twenty years in Washington state was the subject of a long court battle between physical anthropologists and archaeologists who wanted to study him and contemporary tribes who wanted to claim him under NAGPRA rules.
Suspiciously, the Corps of Engineers dumped rock and gravel all over the area where his skeleton washed out along the Columbia River, making it impossible to say if he was buried with anyone else.
Some scientists described the skull as “Caucasoid” — which is not the same as “Caucasian” in a racial sense, but which could indicate common ancestry with today’s Polynesians or perhaps the ancient Ainu people of Japan. That did not stop other people from claiming a European origin for him.
The breakthrough in confirming the ancestry of the skeleton after years of research came with DNA testing, which enabled scientists to compare DNA in an ancient finger bone from Kennewick Man with saliva samples from Colville tribal members, where genetic similarities were confirmed.
Whoever he was, he lived hard, active life and might have gone down fighting.
Part of a spear had remained lodged in Kennewick’s right hip bone at a 77-degree angle, but, remarkably, the spear did not cause his death. The cause of his demise remains a mystery. What is known is that this athletic, rugged hunter suffered many physical traumas before finally expiring in his mid-to-late 30s. [Other estimates put him in his forties—CSC]
Now the skeleton goes to a coalition of local tribes who plan to rebury it near where it was found.