ANCIENT ENCOUNTERS: Kennewick Man and the First Americans
by James C. Chatters. B&W photo section; B&W maps.
Condition: Gently pre-read, if at all, 2001 Simon & Schuster hardcvoer & DJ (in mylar jacket), first printing.
Content: In this intriguing work of scholarly detection, forensic anthropologist James Chatters relates the story of a fossil discovery that has challenged received wisdom about the peopling of the Americas--and that has touched off a storm of controversy. On July 28, 1996, two students happened on a skull that peeked from the mud of a Washington riverbank. When police officers arrived at the site, they called in Chatters, a deputy coroner and scientist. At first glance, Chatters guessed that the skull was that of a white pioneer, perhaps a hundred or so years old, but on examining other skeletal remains, he began to suspect that the human eventually dubbed "Kennewick Man" was much older indeed.
Various scientific tests proved him right: the skeleton was around 9,500 years old. But Kennewick Man, he announced, was also "Caucasoid" in appearance, a revelation that triggered charges of racism and tomb-robbing by local Native Americans, who claimed the remains as part of their cultural heritage. The announcement also drew in white supremacists, who seized on Chatters's discovery to argue that their forebears were the first to arrive in North America. Both the term "Caucasoid" and its racially charged interpretations were off the mark, Chatters writes, for Kennewick Man should be seen as an ancestor to us all. Some of his features, and those of other ancient remains found elsewhere in the Americas,
suggest a kinship with peoples as various as Polynesians, Ainu, medieval Icelanders, and Australian aborigines. More important than bloodline is the revision that Kennewick Man and his cousins force in our account of the arrival of humans in the Americas, which, Chatters argues, happened in waves over long periods of time and involved people of widely varied features and genetic traits. Writing evenly of a controversy that continues to rage, Chatters provides a behind-the-scenes view of physical anthropology, as well as a fascinating revision of the human past. Questions welcome. [1 copy available]
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