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Kennewick Man Controversy Analysis Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021


One of the most talked-about archaeology stories in recent times is the Kennewick Man controversy. It sparked off after the discovery of Kennewick Man and one of its effects was the confusion that the public was subjected to by it and the fact that the Federal government tried to settle out a case which was started by the discovery out of court. This case was a result of scientists suing the government over the discovery. The public was further confused over the Native Americans raising objections about the discovery. The sum total of this controversy can be said to be a measure of how the Federal government, scientists and Native American bodies conduct their business and the public scrutiny that is afforded to these bodies (Fine-Dare, 2002).

This series of the event was sparked off when in 1998 Sixty Minutes, a new program in the United States broke the story and afforded the story about twelve minutes which is a bit generous for an archaeology story, it gave the public that the story had more to it than a normal archaeology story (Chatters, 2000).

The Kennewick Man discovery

A boat race in the Columbia River, near Kennewick which is located in Washington State was held in the year 1996. Kennewick is located in the northwestern end of the United States. Two fans in an attempt to have an advantageous view of the race pulled ashore and it is here they located a human skull which they took to a coroner who handed it over to archaeologist James Chatters. Chatters and other archaeologists went to Columbia where they got an almost complete skeleton with archaeological evidence of being of Caucasian origin (Fine-Dare, 2002).

Chatters being an accomplished archaeologist soon discovered that the teeth of the skeleton had no cavities and hence came to the conclusion that the owner of the skeleton did not have to grid food substances that had sugar or corn. He also spotted an embedded point of the projectile in the skeletons right pelvis suggesting that the skeleton was owned by somebody who lived between 5,000 and 9,000 years in the past. This prompted Chatters to have the bone tested in radiocarbon dating and to his astonishment, he received the test clarifying that the bone was dated more than 9,000 years ago (Chatters, 2000).

The Columbian river stretch is controlled by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the same stretch is perceived by a number of Native American tribes to be their traditional homeland. Former US president George H. W. Bush signed into law the Natives Americans Graves and Repatriation Act in 1990 and the Umatillas one of the Native Tribes that acknowledged the stretch of the river to be their traditional homeland made a formal request of the skeleton. The Army Corps was not opposed to this request and actually started the repatriation process (Chatters, 2000).

The Controversy

The Kennewick man has sparked off an archaeological problem that scientists have not yet been able to solve. For a number of years, there is the belief that the American continent started peopling about 12,000 years ago in waves of three phases that were separate. These people were also from separate parts of the world. But recent evidence has proved other alternatives of the American continent peopling and the Kennewick Man was a very valuable piece of study by scientists who were focused on solving out the puzzle of the peopling of the continent (Fine-Dare, 2002).

There was evidence that settlement of the American continent consisted of an influx of groups that were not large but were from different parts of the world and this could have been earlier than what was believed for a very long time. The Kennewick Man would give a clue and yet he was being repatriated, the scientist would hear none of it and that is why they sued for the right to study the Kennewick Man before he was reburied. In 1998 a court ruling was reached and the scientists had won but after the skeleton had been transferred to the Seattle museum, it took long legal debates until the scientists were allowed to study the Kennewick Man Materials in 2005 and the public started getting the results in 2006.

Legislation of the law brought about some issues because the descendants of the remains remain uncertain even today. The Native Americans still feel that he was their ancestors and hence they should be permitted to rebury him. However, the government should be clearer on such issues so as to avert trouble. The materials are very valuable to both the scientists and the native tribes; hence, legislation should be made concerning such discoveries.


  1. Fine-Dare, K, S., Grave Injustice: The American Indian Repatriation Movement and NAGPRA, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
  2. Chatters, J, C. “The Recovery and First Analysis of an Early Holocene Human Skeleton fro Kennewick Washington.” American Antiquity 65, no. 2 (2000):291–316
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