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The Kennewick Man Case | Court Documents | Briefs

Affidavit of Douglas Owsley, Ph.D.

I, Douglas W. Owsley, being first duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:

1. I am one of the plaintiffs in the above-entitled case. My professional qualifications are described in earlier affidavits filed with the Court. See attachments to Plaintiffs' Motion for Order Granting Access to Study and Plaintiffs' Motion for Immediate Response Re Study Request.

2. On April 2-3, 2001, I examined those photographs, CT scan images and X-rays of the Kennewick Man skeleton that were made available for inspection by myself, Roy Clark and Cleone Hawkinson at the Burke Museum, Seattle, Washington. I have also examined other CT scan images of the skeleton generated from the computer data that defendants were ordered to provide to plaintiffs.

3. The above image materials raise a number of questions about Kennewick Man's life, death and postmortem taphonomy that cannot be resolved without further examination of the skeleton itself. Some of those questions are:

A. The CT scan images generated by plaintiffs from defendants' computer data show a complex fracture pattern on the left anterior portion of the cranial vault. This fracture pattern can also be seen in the image record archived with the collection, although it does not appear there as clearly. This fracture could be significant for understanding the skeleton's taphonomic history, but its cause cannot be determined from the existing image record. Only examination of the skeleton can resolve this question.

B. Dr. Chatters has reported that he believes the projectile point entered the hip from the front. Drs. Powell and Rose, on the other hand, have concluded that it entered from the rear. Although I concur with Dr. Chatters, the existing image record that I have seen is insufficient to resolve this question. The hip bone is in multiple pieces, and the existing photographs of the fragment containing the projectile point are difficult to orient. In order to resolve the question of the projectile point's direction of entry, the pelvic bone must be reconstructed, reevaluated and new images taken (photographs, X-rays and CT scans).

C. The government's 1999 CT scan images appear to show that the cranium once contained distinct layers or laminations of sediments. If any of those sediments are still intact after the studies conducted by the government, they should be carefully examined. Such an investigation could provide information on the postmortem positioning of the cranium in the ground and the various processes that affected the cranium after death. It also may be possible to radiocarbon date and analyze these sediments to help confirm the skeleton's geologic age and stratigraphic context. The CT scan images made for the Benton County Coroner in 1996 should be examined to determine the original condition of the sediments inside the cranium before they were disturbed by the studies conducted by the government. Although we asked to see everything during our April 2001 inspection of the government's image record, we were not told that the Coroner's CT scans, X-rays and photographs existed. Consequently, we did not have an opportunity to inspect them to see what information they might contain.

D. The existing image record does not clearly document the occlusal (chewing) surfaces of the dentition. Those pictures of the teeth that do exist suggest a pronounced gradient of anterior to posterior (front to back) differential wear. They also suggest the presence of lingual (tongue side) wear on the mandibular incisors. To understand the cause and significance of such wear patterns, it will be necessary to examine the upper and lower teeth while they are in contact. Such an evaluation will require access to the skeleton and reconstruction of the lower part of the cranium.

E. The CT scan images taken in February 1999 indicate that the orientation of the skeleton's face may have been offset when the cranium was reassembled and measured for the government's first phase studies. The new CT scan images that plaintiffs generated from the government's computer data also display evidence of such twisting. If the face was incorrectly aligned during the 1999 study session, the measurements taken at that time and any conclusions drawn from their analysis could have been affected. Reconstruction and remeasurement of the skull is needed to resolve this issue.

F. The CT scan images that I examined show that spaces were left between several bone fragments when the cranium was reassembled, which may have been due in part to postmortem bone distortion and losses of intervening bone material. If they are not carefully evaluated, these gaps are large enough to affect the accuracy of some measurements taken of the skull. The cranium must be reconstructed and remeasured to determine if these gaps are anatomically appropriate, and if they are not, their effect on the prior measurements.

G. The CT scan images also appear to show that one side of the cranium is slightly offset in relation to the other side. This distortion could be the result of post-depositional processes. Reconstruction and remeasurement of the cranium is needed so the degree of distortion can be determined and factored into any analyses made of the skull.

H. The existing image record reveals inconsistent information about the age of the individual at the time of death. Dr. Rose has estimated his age at 45 to 55 years. Based upon the image record that I have seen, I would be inclined to estimate his age at closer to 40 years. Reexamination of the skeleton is needed to resolve this question.

4. Reexamination of the skeleton is needed for other reasons. These include the following:

A. The photographic record indicates that little attention was given to re-associating rib fragments during the government's February 1999 first phase studies and the two subsequent sample extraction sessions. The ribs can provide important information about antemortem injuries and about the postmortem positioning of the body during and following decomposition.

B. Photographs from the government's February 1999 studies show that some rib fragments may have been associated incorrectly. For example, fragments differing in their preservation characteristics or their relative size were identified and photographed as possible matches. In some cases, it appears that rib fragments from opposite sides of the body were inappropriately matched.

C. During their February 1999 examination of the skeleton, Drs. Powell and Rose changed some of the fragment identifications that were made during the October 1998 pre-move inventory. After reviewing the photographs of these fragments, I am inclined to stand by the original assessments. However, the photographic record does not provide sufficient detail to resolve our differences.

D. I am concerned about the accuracy of some of Dr. Powell's measurements. For example, he has reported that the interorbital breath of the Kennewick skeleton (i.e., the distance between the eye orbits measured between two specific landmarks) is 17 millimeters (mm). Measurements made on a copy of the cast of the Kennewick skull show a distance of 22 mm. If it is correct, Dr. Powell's measurement is unusually small for early New World individuals. It also appears that Dr. Powell may have incorrectly located bregma (another cranial landmark) in other measurements. These apparent discrepancies must be resolved since differences of this kind could significantly affect conclusions drawn from measurements of the Kennewick skeleton.

E. After inspecting the image record, I believe that the reasons for restudy of the skeleton described in the affidavits to Plaintiffs' Motion for Immediate Response Re Study Request remain valid.

5. I am also of the opinion that the skeleton needs to be rephotographed. An accurate photographic record is important so future investigators can properly assess the accuracy of the observations and measurements of earlier observers. Accurate, well-taken photographs provide a basis for communicating information about shape and other characteristics to scholars interested in ancient human skeletons. A good image record will also provide baseline documentation needed for assessing future condition changes in the collection, and will help to reduce the need for physical handling of the bones if questions arise concerning the identification or evaluation of particular items. In my opinion, the existing image record for the Kennewick skeleton is inadequate and fails to meet these needs. Some of the deficiencies of the present record are:

A. The overall quality of the image record is poor. Most of the existing photographs are incorrectly positioned, and do not provide sufficient detail to adequately document texture, condition and morphological features of the bones depicted. In many cases, they raise more questions than they answer.

B. I was not shown any photographs or other images of the skull in a completely reassembled state (i.e., of the cranium with the mandible in place). The skull is the single most important element of this skeleton, and it should be thoroughly documented. Such documentation is needed so later observers can assess whether the skull was correctly reassembled when it was measured and whether the resulting measurements are reliable.

C. The existing photographs of the cranium were not taken in the proper anatomical position (e.g., the Frankfort Horizontal) and do not illustrate the skull in all appropriate positions (i.e., frontal, left lateral, right lateral, posterior, superior and inferior). Because of poor positioning, many photographs of the reconstructed cranium do not include the superior vault or the maxillae in the images. (See Attachments 1 and 2). The existing views of the occlusal surfaces of the teeth were poorly positioned and consequently do not adequately depict the chewing planes of the teeth.

D. The stereozoom photographs taken in April 2000 do not identify the fragments shown. As a result, one can only speculate on what they depict.

E. The X-rays taken in 1999 provide only limited useful information. They appear to have been taken with double screen cassettes (i.e., with two intensifying screens) that are commonly used in hospital settings to minimize the impact of X-rays on living tissue. Such techniques should not be used for the investigation of archaeological collections since they eliminate or obscure many of the fine structural details of the bone. Even though the different pieces in the Kennewick skeleton are numbered, the images are not labeled to identify the various fragments that were X-rayed and the X-ray logs we have seen contain only generalized descriptions. Because their orientation and anatomical context is unknown, many of the X-rayed fragments cannot be identified now with confidence. The X-rays of the cranium are over-exposed and have marginal scientific value. The X-rays of the long bones (femur, tibia, humerus) are somewhat clearer, but do not provide sufficient detail to permit reliable assessment of important questions, such as possible pathological conditions (e.g., transverse lines of arrested growth). The orientation of the hip fragment containing the projectile point is difficult to assess. Only the general shape of the projectile point can be discerned in the X-rays.

6. Because of the importance of the Kennewick skeleton, it should be rephotographed by an expert who is experienced in the complexities of photographing human skeletal remains. Additional CT scans should be taken of the cranium so any sediments remaining inside the vault can be documented and evaluated before any more of them are removed or become detached. In addition, as noted in my earlier affidavits, digital images of the skeleton should be taken and new casts made of the cranium and mandible.

7. Reviewing the image record leads me to question again the government's decision to use parts of the left tibia for C14 and DNA testing. The sampled tibia was the only complete tibia in the collection. Although it was broken into three pieces, the existing photographs appear to confirm my assessment from the pre-move inventory that this bone could have been reconstructed. Data from the reconstructed bone could have provided important information about robusticity, activity patterns, and early population variability. Data have now been lost as photographs do not show that the tibia was reconstructed during the February 1999 study session or before the C14 and DNA samples were removed from the proximal end. The area where the tibia fragment was sectioned has a nutrient foramen (i.e., a vascular opening in the bone), which is an important landmark. Sectioning at this location prevents collecting or verifying specific measurements taken at that landmark. (See Attachment 3). Such measurements could include anterior-posterior diameter, circumference, and possible medial lateral diameter. Finally it could have been predicted that the tibia was not the best candidate for providing suitable C14 and DNA samples. The tibia's cortex is thinner and less dense at this location than the incomplete femur fragments in the collection. Even if this location on the tibia were the best location for sampling, it would have been preferable to use the incomplete tibia rather than to damage a complete bone. The left proximal tibia was an inappropriate choice that was sampled in an unjustifiable location. It is usually best to use dense bone or teeth for DNA testing.
DATED this 15th day of May, 2001.
Douglas W. Owsley

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