Friends of America's Past

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A Virginia Student's Science Project

In the spring of 1999, Greg Bronstein a 7th grade student at Rocky Run Middle School, Fairfax, Virginia, contacted the Friends website with questions about the Kennewick Man skeleton. Our email conversation blossomed into his science project, which culminated in an opportunity for me to visit his school in April. Greg's project included an interview about the field of anthropology and a report of his research on the Kennewick Man . My talk to the 7th grade gave the students a little background in human variation and what physical anthropologists can learn from bones. His interview and report follow.

Pictured: Greg Bronstein, Cleone Hawkinson, President of Friends of America's Past, and Greg's sister, Lydia. The bumpy skull on the right is of an individual who was scalped but survived.

Email interview

These are the interview questions that were the basis of Greg's project, along with his other research and readings:

Greg: Anthropology uses other scientific disciplines to assist in the analysis of people and cultures. What kind of sciences do you need to study to become an anthropologist?

Cleone: Anthropologists study people living today and all those who have lived anytime in the past. If you really think about this, you'll realize what a broad field of study this is! You can choose from many areas of study within the field of anthropology. These include physical anthropology (human variation of living and past people, including primates), archaeology (past cultures), cultural anthropology (the ways people organize themselves and their beliefs), and linguistics (past and present languages).

Depending on your interests, a good background in science will serve you well, so the following are just a few of the areas you might choose. If you are interested in physical anthropology or archaeology, you'll benefit from zoology, botany, genetics, geology and chemistry. If you are interested in cultural anthropology or linguistics, zoology, botany, geography, and geology (and of course the social sciences) are useful.

If all this sounds like too much to tackle, taking some general courses in anthropology is a great way to begin. Then, you can choose the areas you are most interested in, and you'll find yourself wanting to know more about the other sciences that apply.

Greg: What scientific disciplines are anthropologists using to aid in studying the Kennewick Man?

Cleone: Well, first of all, only a few scientists hired by the government have been allowed to study the Kennewick Man. The government defined their studies to include three areas of inquiry: sediment analysis, lithic analysis, and skeletal evaluation.

Two geologists have removed sediment from the bones to compare (correlate) with sediment taken from the discovery site. They hope to find a 'relative date' that will tell them how long ago the Kennewick Man lived.

An archaeologist with a specialty in lithics (projectile points) was asked to evaluate the point that is lodged inside the hip bone. He will compare his observations with lithic collections in the area (Washington and Oregon) to see if he can find others of similar shape and size that were found in archaeological sites that have known dates.

Two physical anthropologists were asked to evaluate the skeleton to determine its biological age (how old the Kennewick Man was when he died), confirm he is a man, and to try to determine if he is related to modern Native Americans.

If all other scientists who have an interest in studying the Kennewick Man are allowed to study, a wide range of studies are possible. For example, the plaintiff scientists have recommended 17 different studies in their proposal for study, submitted to the court in 1997.

Greg: When did you first become interested in anthropology and why did you
choose that field?

Cleone: I worked in the Anatomy Department at the University of Chicago while my husband was in graduate school in the Chemistry Department. Many of the professors in the Anatomy Department had joint appointments in Anthropology. Every day, we had a coffee hour in the library. The faculty, graduate students, and staff could come together for informal conversations about their research. I attended this regularly, so I was literally surrounded by people doing exciting research in many areas of anthropology. I knew I wanted to become an anthropologist because there were so many topics to choose from, and I wanted to know about ALL of them.

Greg: Presently what is the most popular field of anthropology, and what type of anthropologist are you?

Cleone: I am a physical anthropologist. I don't know which field is the most popular. My experience has been that whatever area someone has chosen is considered the 'best' one to be in. Anthropologists choose the field because they love it, I think. You'll never get rich being an anthropologist, but you'll definitely lead an interesting life.

Greg: What has been learned about Kennewick Man's ability to use tools?

Cleone: Kennewick Man is a modern man. He had the same abilities that we do.

No cultural artifacts have been recovered, other than the lithic point in his hip. We hope that someday soon the government will give permission to study the site. The plaintiff scientists have proposed a variety of studies that will tell us more about his lifestyle. Other scientists will also have ideas for studies that would tell us more.

Greg: Is it likely that we will find more skeletons of people possibly related to Kennewick Man?

Cleone: It is very likely if politicians would stop interfering with scientific pursuit in this area.

Greg: Why was the Kennewick Man site covered by rocks and dirt by the Army Corps of Engineers?

Cleone: To "stabilize" the river bank to prevent erosion.

Greg: Who gave the orders for the Army Corps of Engineers to "stabilize" the river bank area where Kennewick Man was discovered?

Cleone: President Clinton (according to the Wall Street Journal)

Greg: Is it possible to find out where Kennewick Man is from?

Cleone: Yes, from the spear point in his hip we may find out where that (type of ) rock is from. That location may yield more clues.

Greg: Could DNA samples be used to find out who Kennewick Man's modern descendants may be?

Cleone: It is possible that we may find modern descendants, but it is more likely that they live somewhere in South America, or may not even exist anymore.

Greg's Essay

I first heard about the Kennewick Man in science class when my teacher told us about a television show that she saw on the subject of Kennewick Man. She told us to go home and research the Kennewick Man and bring back our findings in the morning. That is when I became interested in the Kennewick Man. Soon, through e-mail, I came in contact with a group of anthropologists called Friends of America's Past. My family and I soon became friends with the leader of the group, Mrs. Cleone Hawkinson.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Kennewick Man case is that he is not an Indian. In fact, he is from an ethnic group associated with Eastern Europe. In truth he very much resembles Captain Picard from Star Trek. That worries many Indian tribes because Kennewick Man is 9400 years old and is clearly not an Indian. The Indians want Kennewick Man put back in the ground but scientists want to study him and find out more about him. It is a battle between religion, politics, and knowledge. Kennewick Man is in a select group of skeletons. It is kind of like a club of skeletons from ethnic groups associated with Europe and Polynesia that are not Clovis (early American Indians) and predate, in most cases, the Indians. Of the dozen or so club members about three have been repatriated. It is possible that Kennewick Man was one of the last of his kind and that his race may have died out or intermarried. Or, maybe even Kennewick Man and his people were massacred by Clovis people competing for the same land.

Another interesting aspect of the Kennewick Man case is that he lived for twenty years, until he was about 43 years old, with a three-inch Clovis style spear point lodged in his hip. The bone grew around his hip and he managed to survive infections from the spear point. This injury must have seriously affected his walking and he probably walked with a serious limp. It also seems that Kennewick Man had a chronic toothache considering that all of his teeth were worn down to the roots. He must have been very grumpy.

Through my study of Kennewick Man and my association with Ms. Hawkinson, I learned valuable information about the study of anthropology. I learned about social, cultural, and physical anthropology and how anthropologists use science to further their studies. For instance, the use of carbon dating techniques and CAT scans have been invaluable tools to allow these scientists to learn when and how Kennewick Man actually lived.

I am glad that I chose to study the Kennewick Man case. My family and I have learned countless bits of information. But, through this project I came into contact with people that I would not have otherwise met, mainly, Mrs. Cleone Hawkinson. She has been very helpful and generous and I thank her for her effort and for coming to my school to share her knowledge.

The research articles Greg used for his essay came from the Newsweek Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Willamette Week, and two articles from the Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center.

A final note: Greg received an Outstanding grade on this essay.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Greg, his family, his science teacher, Mrs. Weingartner and the students at Rocky Run. I thank them all for the memories and opportunity to talk about anthropology.

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