Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans

by James C. Chatters

Hardcover, 2001



Call number

E78 .W3


Simon & Schuster (2001), 304 pages


"The skeleton known as Kennewick Man was discovered in 1966 by two young men along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. When the skeleton was brought to Jim Chatters, a forensic anthropologist, Chatters first believed that the remains were those of a nineteenth-century pioneer. He was astonished when radiocarbon dating revealed the skeleton to be approximately 9,500 years old, making it one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America. But what really intrigued Chatters was that despite his antiquity, Kennewick Man did not resemble modern Native Americans. So who was he, and where did he come from? Ancient Encounters is Chatters' compelling account of his quest to find the answers to these questions - a quest that ultimately was halted by political considerations." "Chatters' investigation was cut short because local Indian groups claimed the skeleton under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and demanded the right to rebury the remains. The Army Corps of Engineers, which had jurisdiction over the land where Kennewick Man was found, seized the skeleton and put it into federal storage, where it remains to this day. The skeleton was not reburied, because a group of scientists whom Chatters contacted to help him in his investigation filed suit to prevent this. Their suit is scheduled to go to trial in 2001." "But Ancient Encounters is much more than a story of political intrigue. This is an anthropological detective story, told by the first scientist to have studied Kennewick Man. In the short time that the skeleton was in Chatters' hands, he learned a great deal about the man's life. Ancient Encounters is an important exploration of the origins of our earliest ancestor - and a critical examination of the controversy over who owns the past."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)

Media reviews

A gripping account of the discovery and subsequent controversy that surrounded Kennewick Man, a 9,500-year-old skeleton found in the Pacific Northwest. Anthropologist and forensic consultant Chatters was minding the shop in 1996 when the Benton County coroner came calling with a skull discovered in the nearby Columbia River in Washington state. Although the formation of the jaw and brow suggested to Chatters that the skull was that of a Caucasian (perhaps an early settler in the region who died a century ago), there was a puzzle in the form of an arrowhead (a projectile of a type that’s been out of use for many thousands of years) lodged in the skeleton’s pelvis. Radiocarbon dating revealed the astounding age of the bones; Kennewick Man was one of the most complete skeletons ever discovered from such a remote period. However, his age put him square in the middle of a controversy. Was Kennewick Man, a Caucasoid skeleton not traceable to any existing tribe, subject to the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act? If so, he would have to be reburied immediately, with no further scientific examinations. As Chatters relates the case, it is a striking example of how bureaucracy can be manipulated—in this case, by the Army Corps of Engineers and the local tribes who seized and held the skeleton, exhausting deadline after deadline for performing its own studies. After four years of delay, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit found for the tribes, at which point Chatters and eight other scientists sued for the right to examine the skeleton (this “ancient American fossil that even the government’s own experts admit needs to be studied”) before its reburial. Chatters, with true scientific curiosity, then moves into headier subject matter, advancing theories of how Kennewick Man came to be in the Americas, what his society might have been like, and what the projectile in his pelvis might suggest about human conflict in a remote age often painted as idyllic. A fascinating chapter in earliest American history, and an example of how far-reaching the ramifications of federal law can be.


Original language



068485936X / 9780684859361



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