Friends of America's Past

The Kennewick Man Case | News & Comment

A Response to Your Questions

by Cleone Hawkinson, President, Friends of America's Past

We’ve received questions from visitors to our website about the National Park Service’s recent announcement of the C14 dates. My responses are based on Department of Interior court documents and press releases and are solely my opinon. Other members of the board of Friends of America's Past may add their comments in the coming days.

Q: What do you think of the government's determination that the Kennewick Man is Native American?

It is my understanding that their position has always been that the remains are Native American. The NPS has finally presented C14 evidence to support this position. They have moved from an ‘opinion’ to presenting evidence to support their opinion. This is a good step.

However, the NPS’s definition of Native American is still an issue. Their definition is based solely on time, rather than on biological, genetic, or even cultural criteria. In their opinion, any person who died on this continent more than 500 years ago is a Native American. So, for example, Norse remains are legally Native American in their view. Magistrate Jelderks questioned Dr. McManamon (NPS Chief Archaeologist) on this interpretation. We will hear more on this topic.

Q: Do you have any comments about the results of the C14 tests?

There is more to the story than was presented at the Burke Museum or in the DOI press releases. Publicly, the NPS presented the discrepancy in the C14 dates as a seemingly common problem with ancient bone. They assured the public they had followed the recommendations of the labs about what to do and which bones to use for C14 tests. However, documents the NPS filed with the court show that they ignored the input from the labs and proceeded to use their own judgment in taking the samples of bone for C14 tests.

· Although the labs told the NPS to test the bone to ensure quality prior to removing a sample, the NPS skipped this step.

· Although they were told the midshaft of the tibia was a possible place to test, the NPS took an untested sample from a quite different place on the tibia. They took their sample from the upper portion of the tibia shaft (below the epiphysis) which is porous bone.

· In their January 2000 Status Report to the court, the NPS described the fragment of tibia as "…poor condition, existing cracks, upheaval and soil in the tibia crest…". With this visually obvious deterioration of the bone, why did they deem this a good place to take a sample? Why was the midshaft portion of the tibia rejected and an obviously deteriorated area chosen instead?

· Documents NPS filed with the court (in support of their C14 sampling process) show that the labs told the NPS they needed a total of 6g for all tests, provided the samples were appropriate. More than 30g were collected without first testing any bone samples.

· In February, 1999, the DOI spokesperson (Stephanie Hanna) and NPS (Frank McManamon) announced that the NPS's noninvasive studies would be starting with a clean slate. The bone selected for C14 studies in 1996 was inappropriate and suspect. Now in January 2000, they state the 1996 C14 date is confirmed by the C14 recent tests. Are they now of the opinion that bone used in 1996 was appropriate and is no longer suspect?

· In July, 1999, the NPS announced their noninvasive studies were inconclusive so C14 tests were necessary to determine if the Kennewick Man is more than 500 years old. In January 2000, they now announce that the C14 tests and their noninvasive studies confirm that the Kennewick Man is Native American. How do the results of the noninvasive tests confirm now what they could not confirm earlier?

My conclusion is that these government officials have made some pretty poor decisions but have put on a good show for the press, hoping the public will not recall their earlier statements or delve into the documents they are providing to the court. I am disappointed that the press failed to note for the public, the government’s discrepancies in logic and mistreatment of the facts publicly available in court documents.

Q: With the wide range of C14 dates and the known ceremonies held, mishandling, and loss of bones before the collection was rehoused at the Burke, is it possible that there is more than one individual represented in the collection or that the bones were contaminated while in the hands of the Corps?

Maybe we should ask the NPS these questions, and ask them (politely) to provide evidence for their answers, not just give an opinion.

A final example of the government's misrepresentation of the current situation

During the hearing in September 1999, the court asked the government to answer, by March 24, if they will allow the scientists to study the Kennewick Man. The court has NOT asked them, as they claim, to have a final answer on cultural affiliation by March 24. Magitrate Jelderks was clear that a cultural determination was not necessary to answer this question. The recent statements at the Burke Museum press conference and the DOI press release that "We have been ordered by the District Court in Oregon to come to conclusions based on these studies by March 24, 2000..." are misleading.

Friends of America's Past asks for your support to ensure that the full story of the Kennewick Man can be told. We all deserve to know the truth. The government has spent far more than $1,000,000 of our tax dollars in delays, destruction of the discovery site, poorly designed 'science', half-truths, and misleading statements. Would you like to help us?

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