Friends of America's Past

The Kennewick Man Case | Press Releases & Public Statements

Summary of Plaintiffs' Study Plan

Plaintiffs' study team for investigation of the Kennewick Man skeleton consists of 24 scientists and experts from 14 universities, institutions and technical consulting companies. The research team will:

  • evaluate the accuracy of prior reconstructions of the skull
  • check the accuracy of measurements and observations reported by the Department of the Interior's investigators
  • reassemble as much of the skeleton as possible
  • take new measurements of the skull and postcranial skeleton
  • examine the skull, teeth and postcranial skeleton for characteristics ("discrete traits") that are genetically controlled
  • examine all parts of the skeleton for evidence of injuries, disease, degenerative conditions, congenital anomalies and changes due to lifetime activities
  • record all bone fractures, stains and other conditions that might reflect changes that occurred after death
  • test small samples of bone for amino acids and chemical content
  • analyze sediments and calcium carbonate concretions from the bones
  • take new photographs, x-rays and CT scans of the skeleton
  • examine selected parts of the skeleton by scanning electron microscopy ("SEM")
  • obtain laser scan and other digital data of key parts of the skeleton

The purpose of these studies is to develop a better understanding of who Kennewick Man was and what role he played in American prehistory. In addition to verifying previously reported data, the study team will collect new information about the physical characteristics and chemical composition of the skeleton, about how it has been modified by postmortem natural processes and about the projectile point embedded in its hip. For the first time, the skeleton will be studied as a unified reassembled entity. Such an integrated evaluation will permit the study team to interpret more accurately the significance of stains, color changes, fracture patterns and other external characteristics of the skeleton. Parts of the skeleton (e.g., hands, feet, ribs) that have received little attention in the past will be thoroughly examined and documented.

SEM inspection of the bones will permit observation of microscopic structures and features. Chemical testing of bone microsamples will provide data for assessing the range of protein preservation throughout the skeleton. Laser scanning and digital imaging of the skull will make it possible to create 3D and computer images of the skull that can be compared visually to other skulls. Remeasurement of the skeleton will allow the study team to compare it to various modern and past human populations using their unique data bases which collectively contain information on more than 10,000 individuals.

Questions that the study team will seek to answer include: (a) is Kennewick Man as different from modern Native Americans as the government's investigators have reported; (b) was Kennewick Man's burial at the discovery site due to natural or human cases; (c) what injuries did he suffer during his life; (d) what was his overall state of health; (e) is the projectile point in his hip a Cascade point or something different; (f) are any of the bones suitable candidates for further radiocarbon and DNA testing; (g) how much should the reported radiocarbon dates be adjusted to compensate for dietary effects.

Compared to the more than 50 grams of bone used by the government for its radiocarbon and DNA testing of the skeleton, the microsamples to be taken by plaintiffs' study team will be miniscule. All of the microsamples combined will totally only approximately 1 to 3 grams, and approximately half of this amount will be taken from the bone remnants or powder left over from the government's tests. The microsamples will be so small they will not affect the appearance or structural integrity of any bone that is sampled.

It is anticipated that all physical examinations of the skeleton can be completed in approximately two weeks. A detailed report will be issued following evaluation of the examination and test results. Copies of the report will be made available to the government, other scientists and interested members of the public.

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