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Defendants' Phase I Studies of the Kennewick Man Skeleton

Cleone Hawkinson attended the five days of government-directed studies of the Kennewick Man skeleton as the representative of the Bonnichsen plaintiffs. These studies were conducted at the Burke Museum on the campus of the University of Washington, Seattle (February 25-March 1, 1999). This is her report to the plaintiffs.

Behind the Scenes:
Defendants' Phase I Studies of the Kennewick Man Skeleton

Cleone Hawkinson

This report describes the public events and the private studies conducted by the Department of Interior, the Department of Justice, and the Army Corps of Engineers at the Burke Museum on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. The studies began on Thursday afternoon, February 25, 1999 and ended in the early afternoon on Monday, March 1, 1999.

The scientific team met on Thursday morning for orientation, which was followed by a press conference at 11:30 a.m., the first of two public events. As the observer for the plaintiffs, I was invited by the Burke Museum communications officer to attend the press conference. I was not invited to the orientation meeting and had been instructed by Allison Rumsey (Department of Justice) to arrive at the reception desk of the shipping area at 1:00 p.m.

The Public Events

Highlights of the Press Conference, Thursday, February 25, 1999

The press interest exceeded the government's expectations with ~75 people attending. The government provided handouts (press release, short biographies of the scientists) and allowed the press to conduct brief interviews with the team before visiting the study area. This event lasted about an hour.

Stephanie Hanna, spokesperson for the Interior Department, welcomed everyone and set the expectations for information flow to the press. They were invited to view and take pictures of the study lab after the press conference and to see an example of the boxes used to store the collection. The bones would not be on display. Ms. Hanna also announced a two-hour public forum scheduled for Saturday, so the public could ask questions of the scientists on the study team.

Dr. Michael Trimble (Army Corps of Engineers) described the process to house the bones.

Dr. Frank McManamon (National Park Service) described his study plan and introduced the scientists. According to Dr. McManamon the government's studies are designed to address two questions:

1. Are the remains Native American as defined by NAGPRA?

The Phase I studies focus on this question. If a determination is not possible, the government will consider proceeding to Phase II studies, which include destructive tests (C14 and possibly DNA).

2. If the government determines the remains are Native American, can a modern tribe be identified to whom the remains can be transferred, if they desire it?

The Phase I studies include:

  • Sediment analysis. The procedure was to collect sediments from the bones, and then to try to correlate these sediments with sediments taken from the discovery site. The objective was to determine a relative date for the skeleton based upon geological criteria.

  • Lithic analysis. The procedure was to note and compare the lithic traits of the point lodged in the innominate and to compare these traits with lithic types with known dates. The objective was to determine a date for the skeleton based upon lithic criteria.

  • Skeletal analysis. The procedure was to evaluate the skeleton through osteological measurements, nonmetric traits, and other observations. The objective was to determine if the skeleton can be identified as a Native American. A second objective was to use these data to determine cultural affiliation.

Dr. McManamon answered most of the press' questions. He directed a few technical questions to the scientific team. Statements made during the press conference include:

  • Stephanie Hanna stated there were 380 fragments in the collection. Dr. Trimble used this number again on Saturday at the Forum. Dr. Owsley's inventory accounted for 350.

  • They are starting from scratch to establish the age of the skeleton and will not rely upon the original C14 date. Ms. Hanna stated that there are questions about the appropriateness of the bone chosen for the tests. Dr. McManamon stated in a follow-up question they were also concerned about the disturbed context in which the bones were found.

Highlights of the Public Forum on Saturday, February 27, 1999

At the table: Ms. Hanna and Drs. Hutterer, McManamon, Trimble, Fagan, Stein, and Powell

Dr. Hutterer talked about the reasons the Burke Museum took custody:

  • The Burke Museum saw this as a way to serve the broad perspectives of the community.

  • It was important for the remains to stay in the area.

  • The Burke Museum's involvement will provide a tradition of neutrality for science and tribal interests

Dr. Hutterer announced the Burke will sponsor a Kennewick Man Event in October with educational material prepared for teachers. The Burke Museum wants to educate children about America's past. They expect that the Kennewick skeleton will never be on display for the public.

Ms. Hanna announced they would post 'everything' on the internet as soon as a determination was made (re: Native American) for all scientists to use the data and the public to understand what was learned.

Dr. McManamon gave an overview, the expectations of the study, and the National Park Service's interpretation of the meaning of the term Native American as used in NAGPRA. Dr. Trimble reiterated the 380 bone count while talking about the rehousing. He showed an empty box and described how safe the bones were from any harm. Dr. Fagan talked about what he hoped to establish with the lithic comparison. Dr. Stein described the theory behind the sediment collection and analysis. Dr. Powell talked about early Americans and his approach to studying them. They all took questions from the audience (about 150-175 people; a few reporters). The forum ended at 2:30 so the scientists could return to work.

The Private Studies

I understand the scientific team met each morning to review the day's plans and at the end of the day to review progress. Observers were allowed in the study area between 9:00 am and approximately 5:00 pm each day.

Physical Space and Security

Observers were required to wear two badges: a white visitor badge that required an escort at all times while in the museum and a bright pink badge that designated us as associated with the Kennewick study project. We signed in at the reception area at the Shipping area (or the main reception of the museum on the weekend) for the white badge.

When we entered the secure Kennewick study area, we received our pink badge. A picture identification was required. Three rooms were used: a lab for study, one for breaks, and one for telephone calls and private conversations. None of the bones were allowed out of the study lab with the exception of those taken to the UW Hospital for x-rays and CT scans. Elaborate security was in place when this occurred on Friday and Sunday.

The security station was in the hall just outside the study lab, with a guard present at all times. Everything taken into and out of the study lab was thoroughly checked. I took only my notebook and used pencils provided at the security desk (no pens were allowed in the room).

The announced protocol was that anyone who passed beyond the security station had to sign the log. The scientists, various government staff (McManamon, Rumsey, Hanna), and Burke staff were allowed beyond the red line in the study lab. A Burke employee and one of Dr. Trimble's assistants were required to be in the study lab at all times. The first of two conservators, Vicki Cassman, arrived at 11:00 on Friday. Nancy Odegard arrived on Sunday morning. After that, both were present through Monday afternoon.

Brent Hicks, archaeologist for the Colville tribe observed for at least a part of each day's study session. Robert Tomanawash, of the Wanapum tribe, observed for about an hour on Monday morning. No one represented the Asatru. I was present the entire time observers were allowed. We were required to stay behind the red line, but could sit or stand. The observers' area was about 4 x 4 feet, just inside the double doors and immediately adjacent to the first study table. We were not allowed to touch or examine the bones.

The study room contained six tables that we could see, and 3 or possibly 4 that were out of view of the observers' area. Three tables were placed end-to-end, taking up most of the space. The edge of the nearest table was within a foot of the red line. Two tables were placed perpendicular to these tables at the far end. To the right, one table was in view and two (or more) tables were out of sight because of storage cabinets. An additional work space to the left was completely out of view, behind more storage cabinets.

A large post was in the center of the open space between the main work area and the work area to the right. We could see the backs of those who were working at the one table in view. If anyone else was standing in the area (which was usually the case), the view was further obscured. The area to the right (out of view) was used to take pictures.

One set of double doors led into the room, and there were no windows. The staff used cabinet drawers in the study lab for temporary storage during the day. Work space was limited, so when scientists were finished with particular bones, they were put away. We were not shown the room where the bones are permanently stored.

The five tables in view were used for assessing the collection (for comparing areas with sediments, verifying the inventory, etc.). The tables to the right were used for collecting sediment and for reconstructing the face and placing it on the vault. So, these two activities were out of view.

Housing the Skeleton

The following description is my understanding of the process used to rehouse the skeleton (based on discussions with Dr. Trimble, Ms. Lueck, and the two conservators):

Dr. Trimble's osteologist, Rhonda Lueck was responsible for laying out the fragments by anatomical element using the Master Catalog Verification and the results of the inventory in October, 1998. She added information from Dr. Douglas Owsley's inventory identifications to the MCV in the form of notes, thus updating the MCV. Although Dr. Owsley identified (and corrected the identification of) many fragments, their MCV numbers were not changed and no new numbers were added for any fragments that had come apart during the inventory or later.

They have replaced the loose paper tag identification system. Each fragment is now labeled with a printed (~8 pt type) MCV number on a small piece of special acid-free paper. The water-based adhesive used to attach the paper labels to the bones is said to be nonpermanent and easily removable from the bone. Very small unidentified fragments, unassociated rib fragments, and faunal fragments remain in individually labeled plastic bags.

The conservators worked 'one step away' from the inventory identifications, and they relied on Ms. Lueck for all identifications and placement. Their primary concern was storage, not the accuracy of the identifications or placement of the fragments.

The conservators handcrafted the boxes from a light blue acid free 'cardboard' material. They designed each box to house the elements in a logical order. For example, all the fragments that represent the left leg (femur, patella, tibia, fibula) are in one box. Each box has a cushioned lining and a second layer on which the outline of the bone was made and then cut out. After assessing the position and appropriate resting surface for safe storage, the fragment was placed in the box, and a second copy of the label (MCV number) placed near the cutout. This means that bones can be returned to their correct places by matching their MCV numbers with the corresponding numbers in the boxes. No two fragments touch, nor do they shift inside the box. Finally, a pillow layer cushions the fragments from touching the top of the box.

The box and its lid have the same identification label. It is my understanding, the label gives the name of the element and indicates storage information (drawer, position in the drawer). This label does not list all the fragment MCV numbers inside the box, that I could see. After watching the collections managers at the end of the day, one could see how matching the labels on the lids and boxes saved time, as some of the custom boxes were similar in size.

The boxes were designed to be housed together in logical groupings within the cabinet's drawers. We were not allowed to see the permanent storage. We were told that it took nine, 12-hour days for Dr. Trimble's team and Burke staff to rehouse the skeleton.

The conservators allowed virtually no reconstruction. During rehousing, they let Ms. Lueck use parafilm to "tape" a few pieces of rib with perfect matches (total of 3 or 4 sets). They did not allow (or perhaps Ms. Lueck did not request permission) for similar reconstruction of the clavicles or long bones. No reconstruction was allowed of postcranial fragments during the study. The rib associations Dr. Rose identified were incorporated into the appropriate boxes and new spaces were cut to fit the new fragments.

During the study, the conservators allowed the use of jewelers' wax to temporarily reconstruct the face for cranial measurements and the CAT scans. They showed Dr. Powell how to warm his fingers using a lamp, then work the wax to make it pliable. They held the fragments in place, then applied the wax to the inside surface of the bone, along the seam, working like a bridge across the contact points. No wax was put on the broken surfaces, so bone touched bone. No landmarks for measurements were affected by the wax. It took a few minutes for the wax to harden, then they fit the next piece. Dr. Powell reported that when the wax hardened it was like plastic, and gave a nice, tight fit. Rewarming the wax allowed the pieces to be taken apart to be stored, with apparently no residue left on the bone.

Verifying the Inventory

Drs. Powell and Rose verified Owsley's high-level inventory, which took a little more than an hour. This process included verifying the identification and completeness of the bones. They postponed evaluating the ribs, unidentified fragments, and confirming faunal fragments until later.

Their completeness scores were based on relatively complete elements. Dr. Owsley had scored the major portions of an element and later identified many fragments. During rehousing, Ms. Lueck added these fragments to their elements. Drs. Rose and Powell were seeing the result of Dr. Owsley's work, i.e., the identified pieces in context. Both remarked what an excellent job Dr. Owsley had done to bring the collection to the state it was in.

Summary of the Studies

The room was arranged so that most of the activity of scientific interest took place out of view of the observers' area. The routine activities (inspecting and measuring the bone fragments) were conducted on the tables nearest to the observers' area.

Sediment analysis. Neither Dr. Stein nor Dr. Huckleberry had ever removed sediments from human bone. Consequently, much of their time Thursday and Friday was spent determining what was bone and what was sediment, what tools they should consider and how to use them, and how to actually remove the sediment without damaging the bone. Sediment collection began on Saturday, when a conservator was available to oversee their work. This work continued through Monday morning.

I understand they identified potential sediments on (and inside) about 28 bone fragments. After discussions with the osteologists and conservators, they narrowed their choices to about a dozen fragments. They removed sediments from the external surfaces of bone and the internal medulary cavities of long bones and the cranial vault. Some sediment was soft and relatively easy to remove with a drill (e.g., inside the femur, tibia, cranium, between the metatarsals). Concretions on the external surfaces were removed following conservators' recommendations to ensure the bone was left intact.

They plan to conduct two series of independent tests at WSU and UW. These included grain size and chemical tests (destructive and nondestructive). They divided the control sample, which came from the WES samples that were collected from the discovery site. They kept all sediments separate as they were collected, but their assumption was that pooling samples would be necessary to obtain adequate sample sizes for the various tests. Photographs were taken of each fragment before and after sediment was removed.

What I was not able to observe: The first two days, it was possible to listen to discussions and to know which bones Drs. Stein and Huckleberry were assessing. The boxes were in view, and they stood nearby. However, as they collected the sediment, Drs. Huckleberry, Stein, and the two conservators were sitting (and standing) at the table to the far right, with their backs to me. Most of the time the various government staff were watching from the central area, so the entire workspace was out of view. I could not see the specific fragments they chose to remove sediments from, nor how the process was conducted. Dr. Stein showed me one of the small vials of sediment later and described the process in general terms. I do not know how many vials of sediment were collected.

Lithic analysis. Dr. John Fagan visually inspected the point in the bone, on x-rays, and CT scans. Dr. Rose described to him about how healthy bone is structured in the innominate (showing location on an articulated skeleton), how bone heals, and what he was seeing. After gathering as much information as he could, he spent the rest of his time comparing it to collections in the Burke Museum. I understand he will do similar research on other collections in Washington and Oregon. Dr. Fagan made his observations and notes while sitting at a table in view of the observers' area.

Skeletal analysis. Dr. Rose and Dr. Powell took a standard suite of osteological measurements and observations, which included biological age, race, sex, pathology and taphonomy. They used various calipers, and Dr. Rose created an osteometric 'board' using metric scale paper. They frequently used standard reference materials and comparative models (teeth, pubic sympheses, etc.). An articulated skeleton from the medical school was brought into the lab for their use.

Before reconstructing the skull, Dr. Powell measured the individual pieces. The pieces were X-rayed on Friday at the University of Washington Hospital.

On Sunday morning, Dr. Powell reconstructed the skull with the assistance of both conservators. In addition to the jewelers' wax, the conservators placed dowels inside the skull to prop and stabilize the various pieces. It also looked like there might have been some foam or other material used for support.

Dr. Powell took a full set of measurements after reconstruction, and the conservators then packed the skull for transport to the UW Hospital. Dr. Powell verified the measurements at the hospital before the CT scan (anterior to posterior in the coronal plane, inverted Frankfurt Horizontal in one mm slices). When the skull was returned to the lab, Dr. Powell repeated the measurements. I understand all were within about a mm of the original measurements. Dr. Odegaard pointed out that this was a clear indication of the excellent fit for the bones.

On Monday, Dr. Powell reconstructed the skull for a second time and repeated the measurements to compare them with his earlier measurements. Dr. Powell indicated the second reconstruction was successful. The conservators reported there were absolutely no fragments or bone dust on the acid-free paper covering the table (placed there to catch any bone that may have flaked or broken). Ms. Militello photographed both reconstructions step by step.

The conservators had debated whether to store the skull in its reconstructed state, or store each piece separately. After they learned that the reconstruction of the skull could be repeated, they decided it was safer to store the pieces separately.

The postcranial elements were not reconstructed, so measuring them appeared cumbersome at times. For example, Ms. Lueck held the pieces of the mandible (and other fragmented bones) together while Dr. Rose took the measurements.

Dr. Rose examined the unassociated ribs, unidentified fragments, and faunal bones while I was at the Saturday afternoon forum (1:00 - 2:30), so I did not observe this assessment.

What I was not able to observe: Most of the boxes were on the tables in view of the observers' area at one time or another. The exception was the vault, cranial fragments, and teeth, which were always across the room. I did not have an opportunity to see them up close.

Dr. Powell and both conservators used the tables to the far right during the cranial reconstruction. Interest by the government staff was exceptionally high during this process. In fact, all of the government people were in the room on Sunday morning (Lueck, Militello, Phillips, Stein, McManamon, Trimble, Hanna). The space was crowded, and I saw nothing of this activity nor its results.

On Monday morning, I observed Dr. Powell doing metric measurements on the reconstructed skull, which was oriented to face him so I only saw the back or side of the vault, not the full face. At that time, Dr. Powell was working on a table in view at the far side of the room (about 20 feet away). I was not offered an opportunity to inspect or see the reconstructed cranium up close.

Photography. Dr. Rose took pictures for reference in interpreting his notes. These pictures were taken of bone fragments in the boxes. He frequently stood on a chair to obtain an overhead shot of a fragment. I could see that he was taking a picture, but the edge of the box usually obscured my view of the which bone he was photographing.

What I was not able to observe: I was unable to see the corner of the room where the tripod and table were arranged for photography. Therefore, I did not see the orientation or positioning of any of the fragments, or know which fragments were chosen for pictures. Ms. Militello took pictures as requested by Drs. Powell, Stein, Huckleberry, and Fagan.

I was told that Ms. Militello took pictures to document the processes for sediment (before and after shots of the fragments) and both cranial reconstructions (each step). I was also told that wide-angle (mm and 3-D scale) photographic techniques were used, but this process was not described in any further detail. I was not shown any of the pictures taken during the five days, although many were developed and available from the second and third days of study. Ms. Militello brought about 18-20 packets of developed pictures into the study lab on Sunday morning.

Final Remarks

The scientists' reports are due by the end of March, 1999. The government will review the results and try to make a determination as to whether or not the skeleton represents a Native American as defined under NAGPRA. If they cannot make this determination, they have indicated that they will move to Phase II studies. The scientists' reports will be withheld from the public until a determination is made. After they make a determination, the scientists' reports and all data will be posted on the Internet. If needed, the government will then address the question of cultural affiliation.

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