Friends of America's Past

The Kennewick Man Case | Court Documents | Affidavits & Declarations

Plaintiffs' Request for Immediate Response Re Study Request


Alan L. Schneider, OSB No. 68147
1437 SW Columbia Street, Suite 200
Portland, Oregon 97201
Telephone: (503) 274-8444
Facsimile: (503) 274-8445

Paula A. Barran, OSB No. 80397
520 SW Yamhill Street, Suite 600
Portland, Oregon 97204-1383
Telephone: (503) 228-0500
Facsimile: (503) 274- 1212

Attorneys for Defendant






CV No. 96-1481 JE


I, Robson Bonnichsen, being first duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:

1. I am one of the plaintiffs in the above-entitled case.

2. My birthdate is December 3, 1940. I am a member of the faculty of the Department of Anthropology, and Director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Further details of my professional background are provided in my affidavit dated February 5, 1997, that was filed with the Court in support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Order Granting Access to Study.

3. I have spent the past four decades studying and investigating the cultural, biological and environmental processes involved in the peopling of the Americas. When I first began my studies, very little was known about the earliest inhabitants of the New World. Scientific knowledge of these matters was limited principally to what could be learned from the projectile points and other stone tools discarded or lost by these Paleoamericans and from the sites where their tools were manufactured or used. The total number of accepted North American sites older than 8500 B.P. (i.e., years before present) was small. Although a few early skeletons (or parts of skeletons) had been found, the analytical tools for their study were not robust and many of them had not been reliably dated. As a result, scientific efforts to explain the processes and events that led to human colonization of the New World were often based more on conjecture and unproven assumptions than they were on concrete factual evidence.

4. During the last four decades, we have seen a virtual revolution in what we know of, and how we learn about, these processes and events. This revolution started with the development of new techniques for investigating and analyzing archaeological sites and prehistoric tools. Of greatest importance was the development of radiocarbon dating techniques that could be used to place sites and organic materials in a chronological sequence. In addition, more rigorous standards were developed for evaluating data and for using data to support inferences or hypotheses. In the 1980's and 1990's the revolution in First Americans studies accelerated rapidly as a result of new technological developments. Two of the most important were: (a) inventions that led to techniques for the study of human genetic material (i.e., modern and ancient DNA); (b) new enhanced computer equipment and programs (and related statistical techniques) for analyses of skeletal and dental data. These two new avenues of research are truly revolutionary since they extend our reach of investigation to more than the tools and sites used by ancient people. Now, for the first time, we have the ability to study in a meaningful way the people themselves. These developments coupled with improvements in radiocarbon dating techniques (such as accelerator mass spectrometry or "AMS") make it possible to study First Americans sites and objects at a level of sophistication never before possible. Other important advances have been made in techniques for sophisticated geochemical and biochemical analyses, for obtaining and evaluating dietary information, for sourcing raw materials and in imaging technology for collections documentation and micro and macro scale research. As a result of these developments, scientists now have now powerful research tools and work in a interdisciplinary fashion scarcely imagined even a generation ago.

5. These new developments are changing the way we view the early prehistory of the Americas. Until recently, most specialists in early New World prehistory subscribed to the hypothesis that the Americas were initially colonized by a small band of big-game hunters who entered the New World about 11,500 years ago. According to this Clovis First Theory (named after a type of projectile point first found near Clovis, New Mexico), the original band of big-game hunters rapidly adapted to New World conditions. Within less than 1000 years, their descendents were thought to have multiplied and spread so effectively that they were able to inhabit all of the Americas. One corollary of the Clovis First Theory was the belief that all modern New World populations are the direct descendants of the original band of immigrants and as a result are closely related to one another. We now know, however, that the Clovis First Theory is mistaken. Archaeological sites have been found that predate the earliest known Clovis sites. The most famous of these pre-Clovis sites is Monte Verde in Chile (dated to approx. 12,500 "radiocarbon" years B.P.). In addition, archaeological, biological and genetic data are now raising doubts with the old assumption that all New World native peoples are the descendants of a single colonizing event.

6. The Kennewick skeleton is an extremely important discovery. It is one of the few early North American skeletons complete enough to provide a full range of cranial, dental and other biological data. To date, fewer than 20 North American sites have been found that contain human skeletal remains older than 8000 years B.P. Most of these remains are only scattered fragments too small to provide any useful data. At present, there is only one known complete adult skeleton from the United States older than 8000 years B.P. This skeleton from Spirit Cave in Nevada is partially mummified, and as a result direct measurements cannot be taken of the entire cranial and postcranial skeleton. Excluding Kennewick Man and the Spirit Cave mummy, there are only four other known adult human crania from the U.S. securely dated to more than 8000 years B.P. Only one of these is as complete as the Kennewick crania appears to be, and only one is associated with as much of the postcranial skeleton as Kennewick Man. Because it is so nearly complete, Kennewick skeleton can provide us with data that few other skeletons can provide. Among other things, it can serve as a comparative standard for the study of skeletal variation among early New World populations, and of what they ate, their health, their lifestyles and how they relate to other human populations (both past and present).

7. It has been almost three years now since plaintiffs filed their lawsuit to protect this skeleton from premature disposition, and I am as convinced as ever of the need for its study. I also believe that all of the studies and tests described in plaintiffs' March 1997 Motion for Order Granting Access to Study are appropriate and necessary. If we do not utilize all available lines of evidence, we cannot hope to understand Kennewick Man's place in prehistory. Prehistory, like a crime scene, must be approached in a logical, open-minded, methodical and exhaustive manner. Every possible piece of information must be obtained and evaluated to see what it might tell us about ancient humans, their evolution and adaptations. No piece of data is too trivial to collect, and no line of evidence can be stricken from the scope of inquiry. Like a crime scene, the study of the past is a process of learning as much as possible about an individual and the context in which he or she was found. In both situations, the objective is to determine who the individual was and how he or she came to be in their present condition. Every piece of information helps to bring a little more of the context into focus so we can gain a better idea of what happened.

8. If the Court is reluctant at this time to authorize all of the plaintiffs' requested studies and tests, we should at least be allowed to conduct those studies that are "noninvasive" in nature similar to the government's first phase studies. By its own actions in this regard, the government has conceded that such studies can provide important information and that they do not jeopardize the skeleton's safety or integrity. Plaintiffs' noninvasive studies include:

  • cranial and skeletal examinations by Drs. Brace, Gill, Jantz and Steele (and/or their assistants)

  • dental observations by Dr. Turner (or his assistant)

  • cranial and dental examination by Dr. Powell in order to verify his existing data

  • health and lifestyles observations of the skeleton by Dr. Owsley and his Smithsonian study team

  • taphonomic evaluation of the skeleton by myself and Dr. Owsley

  • photography of the skeleton by Dr. Owsley's assistant

  • digital imaging of the skeleton by Dr. Owsley's study team

  • reconstruction of the skeleton by Dr. Hunt.

9. Dr. James Chatters should also be allowed to reexamine the skeleton if he needs to obtain additional data. He is the original investigator, and he may have a need to confirm or supplement the initial data he obtained before the skeleton was transferred to the Army Corps' custody in August 1996. It is due to his efforts that such a large percentage of the skeleton was recovered and is now available for examination.

10. The above studies and procedures will not injure or affect the skeleton in any way. In addition, plaintiffs believe that Dr. Ollendorf should be allowed to conduct a pytolith analysis of dental calculus from the skeleton. Such an analysis should not be considered invasive. Dental calculus (i.e., plaque) is a substance extraneous to the skeleton. If it is appropriate to remove and analyze sediments from the skeleton as the government has done, it is no less appropriate to analyze dental plaque to see what species of plants Kennewick Man consumed as part of his diet.

11. I understand from press reports that the government now intends to perform additional radiocarbon testing on the skeleton. Such testing is one of the first procedures that should have been conducted, and it should have been done long before now. More than two and a half years ago, plaintiffs advised the government of the need for additional radiocarbon dates to confirm the skeleton's geologic age. Later when the government unveiled its proposed study protocol, plaintiffs again pointed out that the skeleton's age could not be determined conclusively without further radiocarbon dating. The government's delays in undertaking the needed tests are inexcusable.

12. Even with the addition of further radiocarbon dating, the government's studies are not adequate to provide the information needed for determining Kennewick Man's place in prehistory. Nor are they sufficient to resolve the more limited questions posed by the government's study protocol (i.e., whether Kennewick Man is or is not Native American within the meaning of NAGPRA, and whether he is culturally affiliated with any present-day tribe). The government's study design cannot fulfill these purposes because it is inherently flawed. One: it fails to include all of the studies and tests that are needed. Among the most glaring deficiencies in this regard is the omission of DNA testing from the government's studies. Kennewick Man's relationship, if any, to modern living peoples (and to other ancient populations) cannot be determined reliably without use of this powerful new tool for assessing genetic affinities. Two: a few scientists cannot be expected to gather all of the data and to perform all of the analyses needed for understanding an ancient individual like Kennewick Man and his cultural, temporal and environmental context. As noted above, prehistory must be treated like a crime scene and every piece of potential information must be gathered and used to uncover the truth. This includes not only the factual data itself but also perspectives on interpretation of the data. Different scientists bring different perspectives to a problem, and resolution of a problem as complicated as that presented by the Kennewick skeleton requires the use of a complete multidisciplinary research team coupled with a holistic research design that can properly integrate all of the relevant lines of evidence. Only such an integrated approach can provide the data and perspectives needed to answer the questions (i.e., who, what, when, where and how) that must be resolved to evaluate this skeleton's significance. Development and implementation of the appropriate research program requires the input of many scientists, not just a few. The needed team must include not only specialists but also experienced generalists who can help to put the whole picture together.

13. Researchers who use cranial, postcranial or dental data to study the biological affinities of human skeletal remains are not all alike. Each brings something different to the problem either in terms of the measurements (or observations) used, the statistical techniques employed, or the comparative samples used for making analyses. Because of these methodological differences, the analyses prepared by different researchers often provide significantly different insights concerning the possible population affinities of a given skeleton. In many situations, these insights are complementary in that they reach (or support) the same conclusions. In some cases, however, they may arrive at different conclusions. For these reasons, it is important to draw upon as many different analyses as possible when attempting to determine the population affinities of a skeleton. This is particularly true when the skeleton is from a remote time period like Kennewick Man. Inferences of population relationships based upon five or six different analyses (as plaintiffs propose) are more robust than inferences based upon the work of only one researcher (as the government seeks to do).

14. Without comprehensive and appropriate study of the Kennewick skeleton, it would be sheer speculation to conclude that he is related to any present-day Native American tribe or to living U.S. native peoples generally. The chances that Kennewick Man has any living descendants are exceedingly remote. Most human lineages do not succeed in reproducing themselves over a span of even 500 or 1000 years, and even fewer survive after 8500 years. Because of the contingencies of human survival, modern humans are the descendants of a relatively small fraction of the people who lived in Kennewick Man's era. Likewise, it cannot be assumed that Kennewick Man's immediate band or tribe has any modern living descendants. Human survival in prehistoric times was a problematic proposition. Even entire bands were at risk of sudden or gradual elimination due to competition from other groups, warfare, disease, droughts, famine and other circumstances. Furthermore, even if Kennewick Man or his band do have modern living descendants, it cannot be assumed that they are living in the Pacific Northwest or in any other region of the United States. The ancient hunter-gatherers of Kennewick Man's time appear to have been highly mobile peoples, and over time their descendants could have ended up living many thousands of miles from where their ancestors lived and died. The historic and prehistoric record contains many examples of tribal migrations not related to European expansion that involved considerable distances within only one or two generations. By comparison, more than 400 generations have passed since Kennewick Man died.

15. Some researchers subscribe to the Continuity Theory which postulates that there is a direct ancestor-descendant relationship between the early Paleoamerican skeletons and modern U.S. Native American peoples. However, the Continuity Theory is only one of a number of competing hypotheses that seek to explain the peopling of the Americas, and it has yet to be proven. Before it can be accepted, it must first overcome a number of conceptual and evidentiary hurdles. Some of those hurdles have been described in the preceding paragraph. Furthermore, even if the Continuity Theory does ultimately prove to be correct in a broad conceptual sense, it is unlikely to provide a solid foundation for determining the population affinities of specific skeletons in all situations. For example, even if long-term continuity can be demonstrated for one region, it will not antomatically follow that continuity is also true of other regions. The environmental, cultural and demographic experiences of ancient peoples differed from region to region, and each population had its own unique history of how it responded to these experiences. As a result, what happened in one region was not necessarily the case for another region.

16. It has been over two years now since this case was remanded to the government for new administrative proceedings, and defendants still have not reached a decision on whether they consider the skeleton to be Native American within the meaning of NAGPRA. Such delays are inevitable given the deficiencies in the government's study design. Plaintiffs and the other members of our research team can help to supply the information needed to reach an informed decision on the questions that must be answered in this case. We are willing to provide our expertise without charge to the government. All we ask is an opportunity to examine the skeleton free of inappropriate restrictions. Our only objective is to uncover and report the truth about this skeleton for the benefit of all persons interested in early American prehistory. Our methods and results will be open to scrutiny by all interested persons.

17. My research and work are directly impacted by the government's refusal to allow us to study the Kennewick skeleton. Like any other scholar, my ability to practice my profession is directly dependent upon the quantity and quality of the data I have available to use. The Kennewick skeleton can provide important information for understanding New World prehistory and for testing different hypotheses concerning the origins, evolution, dispersal and adaptations of ancient New World peoples. Access to the skeleton should be open to all interested scientists, not just a selected few. I will be sixty next year, and I do not have an unlimited number of years left. Every year is precious, and too many have already been lost waiting for this case to be resolved.

18. If the government is allowed to prevail in its efforts to censor study of the Kennewick skeleton, we will never know the truth about who this individual was and how he relates to other ancient and modern humans. To learn the truth about this individual, we must gather and evaluate all available information. The truth cannot be found if the answers to be reached are assumed before the research is even done. On a broader scale, science itself cannot thrive in the face of practices like those pursued by the government in this case. Science should be conducted to uncover the truth for all people for all time. It should not be used for political purposes or to validate a preconceived position. Science should be based on reason, investigation and a rational assessment of all facts that can be obtained.

19. To date, the government has been unremitting in its efforts to block independent study of the Kennewick skeleton and the site where it was found. The government's behavior in this regard is particularly unfortunate since it comes at a time when new scientific tools are now available that significantly enhance our ability to understand one of the greatest mysteries of human prehistory - i.e., the peopling of the Americas. If the practices followed by the government in this case become entrenched in public policy, objective and rational study of prehistory in this country cannot survive and more of the human past will be lost forever.

DATED this 23rd day of July, 1999.
Robson Bonnichsen

SUBSCRIBED and SWORN to before me this 23rd day of July, 1999.
Lori L. Bomeo
Notary Public for Oregon
My Commission Expires: 08/12/02

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