The skeleton known as Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996 by two young men along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. When the skeleton was brought to Jim Chatters, a forensic anthropologist, Chatters first believed that the remains were those of a nineteenth-century pioneer. He was astonished when radiocarbon dating revealed the skeleton to be approximately 9,500 years old, making it one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America. But what really intrigued Chatters was that despite his antiquity, Kennewick Man did not resemble modern Native Americans. So who was he, and where did he come from? "Ancient Encounters" is Chatters' compelling account of his quest to find the answers to these questions-a quest that ultimately was halted by political considerations. Chatters' investigation was cut short because local Indian groups claimed the skeleton under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and demanded the right to rebury the remains. The Army Corps of Engineers, which had jurisdiction over the land where Kennewick Man was found, seized the skeleton and put it into federal storage, where it remains to this day. The skeleton was not reburied, because a group of scientists whom Chatters contacted to help him in his investigation filed suit to prevent this. Their suit is scheduled to go to trial in 2001. But "Ancient Encounters" is much more than a story of political intrigue. This is an anthropological detective story, told by the first scientist to have studied Kennewick Man. In the short time that the skeleton was in Chatters' hands, he learned a great deal about the man's life. Numerous serious injuries-including a spearpoint embedded in his hip-indicate that Kennewick Man led a dangerous, perhaps even violent, life. His physical characteristics suggest a relationship to the people of Polynesia, perhaps a common ancestry. As Chatters consulted other experts and explored museum collections, he learned that many of Kennewick Man's physical features were shared by other ancient skeletons discovered in the Americas. The first Americans, or Paleo-Americans, as they are known to some in the scientific community, may have arrived in the Americas earlier and by a different route than has been generally agreed. Kennewick Man may hold significant clues to the ancestry of the people of the Americas, which is why, Chatters argues, his skeleton deserves further study. Fascinating and impassioned, "Ancient Encounters" is an important exploration of the origins of our earliest ancestors-and a critical examination of the controversy over who owns the past.
About James C. Chatters
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Published June 7, 2001
by Simon & Schuster.
History, Political & Social Sciences, Literature & Fiction, Science & Math.