Plaintiffs' Request for Immediate Response Re Study Request
AFFIDAVIT OF D. GENTRY STEELE
Alan L. Schneider, OSB No. 68147
Paula A. Barran, OSB No. 80397
Attorneys for Defendant
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON
ROBSON BONNICHSEN, et al.,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
CV No. 96-1481 JE
AFFIDAVIT OF D. GENTRY STEELE
I, D. Gentry Steele, 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 February 8, 1941. I have been a member of the faculty of the Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University since 1979. Further details of my professional background are given in my affidavit dated February 13, 1997 that was filed with the Court in support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Order Granting Access to Study.
3. I have spent the past three decades studying the question of how human prehistoric populations colonized the earth's major land masses, and in so doing, how they have adapted to an extraordinarily wide range of environments and lifestyles. While the development and spread of humanity are global issues, I have concentrated primarily on understanding North American biological prehistory, being particularly interested in how people arrived in the New World and became adapted to its unique environments. I and most other scientists believe that the most recent continents to be colonized were the Americas. Because of the relative recency of the event, how New World colonization occurred, and when, by whom, and under what circumstances should be easier to determine than for the more ancient colonizations of the Old World. What understandings we gain about the biological prehistory of the New World could serve as the Rosetta Stone to illuminate humanity's spread throughout the world.
4. In the late 1980's, I began to examine the earliest known human skeletal remains from North America. The specific purpose of my research was to determine how closely the earliest known inhabitants of the New World resembled Native American and Asian peoples of today. If individuals representing the earliest known Americans looked like recent Native Americans and northeast Asians, this similarity would support the view that the Americas were colonized very recently. When I began my research, it was generally assumed that all modern Native Americans were directly descended from one, or possibly as many as three, New World colonizing populations (which in turn were assumed to have come from Northeast Asia). The earliest of these populations then known to scientists were called the Clovis people, named after their most characteristic type of spear or dart point. They were thought to have appeared south of the large Canadian Pleistocene ice masses sometime around 11,500 years ago. This traditional model of the peopling of the Americas became so accepted among rank and file anthropologists that whenever alternative views were proposed suggesting a lengthier American prehistory, or that the earliest Americans may have looked different than Native Americans of today, a wall of denial was raised and so resolutely manned that it was virtually impossible to breach.
5. My research (and that of my colleagues) on the earliest human remains recovered from the Americas indicated, however, that the earliest American colonizers differed in cranial and facial features from some more recent Native Americans. When they differed, they differed by appearing more similar to southern Asians rather than northern Asians. While our research has documented such differences in the early samples, the cause of these differences has yet to be determined. In this regard, there are several competing hypotheses that must be considered and tested. One: the distinctions could be a reflection of differences in the ancestries of the populations involved. Two: the distinctions could be due to evolutionary changes resulting from genetic drift and natural selection that occurred in descendant Native American populations after they arrived in the Americas. Three: it is possible that the changes could reflect phenotypic changes (i.e., morphological changes without a genetic basis) in American populations since initial colonization of the Americas. One of the objectives of current research efforts by scholars is to determine which of these hypotheses provides the best explanation of the skeletal differences we are observing.
6. Now that we have established that most of the earliest New World remains differ from more recent populations, we can no longer presume that every newly discovered ancient skeleton represents an individual who was the direct ancestor of all (or even some) living Native Americans. To begin to illuminate the possible genealogical relationship of living Native Americans to the populations represented by specific skeletal remains will require detailed examination, analyses, reporting and discussion of the remains (and of the theoretical assumptions used to interpret these relationships). Further, I am resolutely convinced that no one or two scientists, no matter how well trained or astute they are, can glean all of the information and understanding that can be obtained from these early treasures of all humanity.
7. Science does not progress without examination and re-examination. The scientific method is based upon the understanding that theories are to be tested and retested by multiple independent investigators to verify the degree of accuracy and consistency of the theory. Scientists must be allowed to verify one another's research. Without this independent verification, theories and research cannot be accepted. Such testing, retesting, and independent verification is particularly crucial in the study of prehistory. Prehistoric events cannot be pulled from the past and placed in a laboratory for examination under controlled conditions. Because of this lack of laboratory control, it is crucial that a prehistorian's hypotheses about the past be verified (or nullified) by independent scholars with different perspectives who are given an opportunity to study the same evidence. The Kennewick skeleton can provide all humanity with important information about human evolution and dispersal. However, data from the skeleton can not be accepted and become part of the scientific body of evidence until the remains have been made available for independent verification.
8. The controversy surrounding Kennewick Man has made it crucial to consider the Kennewick remains in any comprehensive study of the possible ancestral/descendent relationships of living Native Americans to the earliest colonizers of the New World. Kennewick Man may be the single most renowned of all ancient North American skeletal remains. Any analysis that does not include this skeleton will be an incomplete study, and will be suspect because of its incompleteness. The question would be forever raised: "But would the conclusions be the same if Kennewick Man were to be considered?"
9. On a personal level, my research on the oldest North American skeletons (i.e., those considered 8500 years old or older) was initiated in 1989. My research included collaboration with graduate students and focused upon understanding who colonized the Americas, and how these early colonists to the Americas were related to living populations. This work was based upon personally examining the skeletal material of these oldest known representatives of early American populations. These first studies were based upon the small and incomplete sample that was known at the time. They indicated that ancient and recent New World populations may not resemble one another. When more complete skeletons from Nevada were found to be of similar antiquity, these individuals were examined and included in my database. While the Nevada specimens corroborated the distinctiveness of early American populations, they also led us to realize that early American populations seem to be more regionally diversified that our previous studies were able to document. These later studies also indicated that some populations may have resembled recent Native Americans more closely than others do, while some were more differentiated from recent populations. As we continued to examine more evidence, we gradually gained a clearer understanding of the populations represented by these early skeletons. It appears from our research to date that the human landscape in North America during these early times was more genetically diverse than previously realized. Because of this greater genetic diversity, any attempt to establish ancestor/descendent relationships between specific early American populations to living American populations will be more difficult, and more equivocal, than previously thought.
10. The natural progression of our research would have been to examine the Kennewick skeletal remains so the data from this nearly complete skeleton could be included in our analyses. The refusal of the government to allow me access to study these remains has curtailed my research on this topic. I will be 59 years old next February, and my health is not as good as I would wish. As a result, the longer the government delays allowing me access to the Kennewick skeleton, the less likely it becomes that I will be able to complete my research. I have already lost almost three years of irreplaceable research time due to the government's delays in affording me access to the remains. I cannot afford additional delays.
11. Denial of access to the Kennewick skeleton also impacts my teaching. One of the functions of a senior professor is to guide the training of students by ensuring they are well grounded in the critical information they need to understand their field of study. Another function is to guide students in the process of scientific inquiry. This is done in part by involving them in the examination and verification of our research and that of other scientists. When access to such rare and significant discoveries as the Kennewick skeleton is denied, then not only is scientific inquiry stopped but the training of future scholars is jeopardized as well.
12. As a result of the government's refusal to allow me access to study the Kennewick skeleton, I have turned to other research issues for the time being. Provided my health and circumstances permit, I hope to return to study of the skeleton representatives of early New World populations if and when the remains of Kennewick Man become available for examination. However, for me, time is a matter of a pressing concern.
DATED this 23rd day of July, 1999.
SUBSCRIBED and SWORN to before me this 23rd day of July, 1999.
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