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Researchers in England have just proven that some human remains that were believed to be from the Roman era are in fact significantly older and come from the Middle Stone Age . The bones are from the Mesolithic period and they are thought be among the oldest ever unearthed in the British Isles .
The remains were found in two cardboard boxes and they are from seven people, from different age groups. Originally, these bones “were discovered in a cave in Cannington Park Quarry near Bridgwater, Somerset, in the 1960s”, reports the BBC.
It appears that they were deposited in the two boxes and not studied until they were rediscovered at the Somerset Heritage Centre near Taunton. The remains were found by researchers from Cotswold Archaeology.
9,000 Year Old Remains
Carbon dating was used to determine the age of the bones. Astonishingly they were found to be 9,000 years old. Sharon Clough, of Cotswold Archaeology, an osteoarchaeologist stated that “the results were very surprising as the bones were originally thought to be Roman and from a cemetery near to where they were discovered in 1964” according to the Daily Mail . No one apparently identified how old they were when they were unearthed.
The remains have turned out to be some of the oldest known humans to inhabit England. ( Cotswold Archaeology )
It appears that the remains from 9,000 years ago, according to Clough, were “transferred between museums, including London's Natural History Museum before they were misplaced” reports the Daily Mail . For some reason, the remains were not recorded with the rest of the objects and bones unearthed at the cave. This was because they were not seen as historically significant or were simply overlooked.
The Human Bones Are From the Earliest Inhabitants of England
The remains of the seven are all from the Mesolithic period also known as the Middle Stone Age, which “is an ancient time period (8,000 BC to AD 2,700)” according to Sky Statement . This was an era that took place between the Palaeolithic period and the Neolithic. The Middle Stone Age was a time when many innovations in toolmaking and society took place.
The bones found include those from adults and juveniles. According to Clough “two thigh bones, from an adult and an under 18, were found to be more than 9,000 years old” reports the Daily Mail . The remains found in the boxes in the Heritage Centre are from some of the oldest people to live in what is now England. It appears that the remains came from a Middle Stone Age cemetery.
The people of the Mesolithic developed polished stone tools and microliths that allowed them to manufacture serrated edged weapons and tools. The had adzes, which are a type of hatchet, for working with wood.
Mesolithic artifacts, from the same period as the bones. (Vaneiles / CC BY-SA 3.0)
There is archaeological evidence that they hunted deer, boars, fowl, and judging by the number of fish hooks found, were fishermen. It seems that the people from the Middle Stone Age engaged in seasonal migration and lived in small communities of around two dozen people.
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Reconstruction of a Mesolithic hunting camp site. (Wessex Archaeology / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Cheddar Man Skeleton
The discovery of Mesolithic era human remains is very rare. This find is being compared in importance to the discovery of Cheddar Man which is “Britain’s oldest complete skeleton” reports Sky Statement . The skeleton was found in Gough’s Cave, the largest in Cheddar Gorge, in 1903.
It had been studied very little until recently and it is now believed to be that of a male who lived in the Mesolithic period. Remarkably, the DNA of the dead man revealed that he was the ancestor of many of the people still living in the area today.
The bones that were found in the Heritage Centre do not come from complete skeletons. While Cheddar Man is a complete skeleton, the remains found in the latest discovery, consist of only some fragments of skulls and pelvic bones.
The upper body of Cheddar Man. (Geni / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
However, they are expected to add to our knowledge of some of the earliest inhabitants of England. Tragically the site where the 9,000 year old bones were found was demolished by quarrying, over 20 years ago. It is possible that many other Middle Stone Age remains and even complete skeletons were destroyed.
Over 9,000 Years Later, Kennewick Man Will Be Given a Native American Burial
He’s been called “the most important human skeleton ever found in North America.” Known as Kennewick Man, theى,000-year-old Paleoamerican was unearthed in 1996 in the city of Kennewick, Washington. But the discovery was more than a thrilling moment for archaeologists—it sparked a legal battle that lasted more than two decades. Now, reports Nicholas K. Geranios for the Associated Press, Kennewick Man’s saga will finally come to an end with a Native American burial.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has at last declared that Kennewick Man is related to modern Native Americans, writes Geranios, a statement that opens the remains to be claimed and eventually buried under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The law requires museums that receive federal funds and hold Native American remains to come to an agreement with Native American nations about how to repatriate them. Once tests confirm the affiliation of the remains, the law allows for the Native American nations to determine how to dispose of them. And that’s just what they intend to do.
When the skeleton of the Paleoamerican was found, it was heralded as a priceless glimpse into the past. The sheer age of the largely intact skeleton made it a coveted artifact for scientists, who hoped to use it to identify the origin of early Americans' migration. But the first scientists that studied the remains described a “lack of Native American characteristics” in the skeleton, sparking a debate over its origins that's raged ever since.
The skeleton was found on federal land, so it technically fell under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' control. But five Native American nations claimed that the "Ancient One” was in fact Native American and should be repatriated under NAGPRA. This assertion was controversial until a study showed that Kennewick Man was in fact Native American. Though the DNA evidence from in this study didn't link him to a particular nation, it showed that his genome was more closely related to modern Native Americans than any other modern human in existence.
As Ben Guarino reports for The Washington Post, that new information overrode the results of a lengthy legal battle between the Yakama, Wanapum, Umatilla, Colville and Nez Perce nations who claimed ownership of the skeleton and the scientists who argued that they should be able to study it.
In 2004, a San Francisco federal appeals court sided with researchers, citing previous analyses that showed Kennewick Man was not Native American, writes Guarino. But the 2015 DNA analysis blasted the debate open once more, and when University of Chicago scientists independently validated the analysis this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to acknowledge that Kennewick Man is in fact related to Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest.
Now that the Ancient One has been proven to be Native American, writes Lynda V. Mapes for The Seattle Times, the five groups who fought so hard to reclaim him will join together to bury him. While they work to determine where and how to inter Kennewick Man, the skeleton will remain at the Burke Museum in Seattle, writes Mapes. In an FAQ about Kennewick Man, the museum notes that tribal community representatives conduct “authorized ceremonial activity” at the museum.
Throughout the long battle, Native American leaders never doubted Kennewick Man’s connection to their people. Just one year after Kennewick Man was unearthed, Armand Minthorn, an Umatilla trustee and religious leader, told Archaeology’s Andrew Slayman: “If this individual is truly over 9,000 years old, that only substantiates our belief that he is Native American. From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time….We already know our history.”
Chuck Sams, an Umatilla spokesperson, echos that sentiment. He tells Mapes that “[Kennewick Man] has been displaced, and we continue to offer our prayers and our hopes for a safe journey back to the land again.”
In 1822 Daniel Davies and the Rev John Davies found animal bones, including the tusk of a mammoth. The Talbot family of Penrice Castle was informed and found "bones of elephants" on 27 December 1822. William Buckland, Professor of Geology at Oxford University arrived on 18 January 1823 and spent a week at Goat's Hole, in which his famous discovery took place.  Later that year, writing about his find in his book Reliquiae Diluvianae (Remains or relics of the Flood), Buckland stated:
I found the skeleton enveloped by a coating of a kind of ruddle . which stained the earth, and in some parts extended itself to the distance of about half an inch [12 mm] around the surface of the bones . Close to that part of the thigh bone where the pocket is usually worn surrounded also by ruddle [were] about two handfuls of the Nerita littoralis [periwinkle shells]. At another part of the skeleton, viz in contact with the ribs [were] forty or fifty fragments of ivory rods [also] some small fragments of rings made of the same ivory and found with the rods . Both rods and rings, as well as the Nerite shells, were stained superficially with red, and lay in the same red substance that enveloped the bones
Buckland's treatise misjudged both its age and sex.   Buckland believed that human remains could not be older than the Biblical Great Flood, and thus wildly underestimated its true age, believing the remains to date to the Roman era.  Buckland believed the skeleton was female largely because it was discovered with decorative items, including perforated seashell necklaces and jewellery thought to be of elephant ivory but now known to be carved from the tusk of a mammoth.  These decorative items, combined with the skeleton's red dye, caused Buckland to mistakenly speculate that the remains belonged to a Roman prostitute or witch.
By the time a second archaeological excavation was undertaken to Paviland Cave in 1912, it was recognized through comparison with other discoveries that had been made in Europe that the remains were from the Palaeolithic. However, before radiocarbon dating was invented in the 1950s, there was no existing scientific method for the determination of the age of any prehistoric remains.  Early carbon dating has historically tended to give results which were underestimations of the age of samples, as radiocarbon dating techniques have developed and become more accurate, the age of the Red Lady of Paviland has gradually been pushed back.
In the 1960s Kenneth Oakley published a radiocarbon determination of 18,460 ± 340 BP.  Results published in 1989 and 1995 suggest that the individual from the cave lived about 26,000 years ago (26,350 ± 550 BP, OxA-1815), during the later periods of the Upper Paleolithic. A 2007 examination by Thomas Higham of Oxford University and Roger Jacobi of the British Museum suggested a dating of 29,000 years ago.  A recalibration of the results in 2009 suggest an age of 33,000 years.
Although now on the coast, at the time of the burial the cave would have been located approximately 110 km (70 miles) inland, overlooking a plain. When the remains were dated to some 26,000 years ago, it was thought the "Red Lady" lived at a time when an ice sheet of the most recent glacial period, in the British Isles called the Devensian Glaciation, would have been advancing towards the site, and that consequently the weather would have been more like that of present-day Siberia, with maximum temperatures of perhaps 10°C in summer, −20° in winter, and a tundra vegetation. The new dating however indicates he lived during a warmer period.
Bone protein analysis indicates that he lived on a diet of between 15% and 20% fish, which, together with the distance from the sea, suggests that the people may have been semi-nomadic, or that the tribe transported the body from a coastal region for burial.
When the skeleton was discovered, Wales lacked a museum to house it, so it was moved to Oxford University, where Buckland was a professor. In December 2007 it was loaned for a year to the National Museum Cardiff. Subsequent excavations yielded more than 4,000 flints, teeth and bones, needles and bracelets, which are on exhibit at Swansea Museum and the National Museum in Cardiff.
Analysis of the evidence from the two excavations at Long Hole Cave on the Gower Peninsula, including sediment and pollen as well as the lithic evidence, has identified Long Hole as an Aurignacian site contemporary with and related to the site at Paviland, evidence of the first modern humans in Britain. 
Adrian Targett visited the home of a close relative yesterday. He had to put on Wellington boots because the floor is muddy. The relative was not in. Hardly surprising: he died 9,000 years ago.9,000-Year-Old Cheddar Man Has Living Descendant Still Living in The Same Area
But there is no doubt: Mr Targett, a 42-year-old history teacher in Cheddar, Somerset, has been shown by DNA tests to be a direct descendant, by his mother’s line, of “Cheddar Man“, the oldest complete skeleton ever found in Britain, and now also the world’s most distant confirmed relative.
Even the Royal Family can only trace its heritage back to King Ecgbert, who ruled from 829AD to 830AD. By contrast, Cheddar Man, a hunter-gatherer who pre-dated the arrival of farming, lived in 7150BC.
The news caught everyone by surprise. Mr Targett’s wife, Catherine, said: “This is all a bit of a surprise, but maybe this explains why he likes his steaks rare”.
The discovery came about during tests performed as part of a television series on archaeology in Somerset, Once Upon a Time in the West, to be shown later this year.
DNA found in the pulp cavity of one of Cheddar Man’s molar teeth was tested at Oxford University’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, and then compared with that of 20 people locally, whose families were known to have been living in the area for some generations.
To make up the numbers, Mr Targett, an only child who has no children, joined in. But the match was unequivocal: the two men have a common maternal ancestor. The mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the egg, confirmed it.
“I’m absolutely overwhelmed,” Mr Targett said on hearing of the match. “It is very strange news to receive – I’m not sure how I feel at the moment.”
His pupils were delighted (“He has never had a nickname … until now,” one 16-year-old said with relish) and so were scientists. The finding could provide a key to the debate about the process by which early humans settled down to agricultural life.
Cheddar Man was discovered in 1903, 20 metres inside Gough’s cave, which is the largest of 100 caverns in Cheddar Gorge – Britain’s prime site for Palaeolithic human remains. He had been buried alone in a chamber near the mouth of a deep cave, about 1,000 years before hunter-gathering began to give way to farming.
Visiting the site, Mr Targett said: “I’m glad I don’t live down here – it’s very dark, dank and dismal. I have been down here before but, of course, I never dreamed that I was standing in my ancestor’s home.”
Dr Larry Barham, an archaeology lecturer at Bristol University, said: “There is debate over whether farmers arrived from eastern Europe and ousted the hunter-gatherers – or whether the idea of farming spread through the population. This discovery strongly suggests an element of the second.”
In Cheddar Man’s time, the area would have been sparsely populated, with dense forests. He would have hunted deer, rabbits, waterfowl and perhaps fish, and gathered nuts, fruit and edible roots. “There were wild boar, bears and beavers.
There were packs of wild wolves, too, but apart from that life was probably pretty good. Cheddar Gorge would have looked similar then and must have been a good spot, with ready-made homes, a spring and forest nearby,” Dr Barham said.
Physically, Cheddar Man would have looked like a modern man. “You could put a suit on him and he wouldn’t look out of place in an office. In fact, he probably wore tailored clothes of leather or skins sewn together,” Dr Barham added.
“It is likely he was part of an extended group of families of 30 or so people. They lived too late to see a woolly mammoth, and too soon to see the earliest farming.”
The link between Cheddar Man and Adrian Targett easily outstrips the existing record for distant ancestors.
The oldest previously recorded relative was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Confucius who lived in the eighth century BC. Two of Confucius’s 85th lineal male descendants today live in Taiwan.
Somerset human remains ɺs old as Cheddar Man'
The bones were discovered in a cave in Cannington Park Quarry near Bridgwater, Somerset, in the 1960s.
Soon after they "disappeared", and were recently found at Somerset Heritage Centre near Taunton, Cotswold Archaeology said.
Radiocarbon dating has shown them to be more than 9,000 years old.
Osteoarchaeologist Sharon Clough, of Cotswold Archaeology, said the results were "very surprising" as the bones were originally thought to be Roman and from a cemetery near to where they were discovered in 1964.
They were placed in boxes and transferred between museums, including London's Natural History Museum, before they were misplaced.
"It was a bit of a mystery, Iɽ assumed they had been archived with the rest of the dig from the post-Roman cemetery," Ms Clough said.
"But theyɽ been picked out of the rubble in the cave and weren't seen as part of the main dig so they were only mildly interesting and were archived and forgotten about."
They were eventually tracked down to Somerset before undergoing carbon dating.
Ms Clough described the remains, from at least seven individuals, as "some of the oldest known humans to inhabit this country".
She said two thigh bones, from an adult and an under 18, were found to be more than 9,000 years old "which places both of the bones very clearly in the early Mesolithic".
Cheddar Man lived in the Somerset area 9,000 years ago and was buried in Cheddar Gorge, where his skeleton was discovered in 1903.
Ms Clough said Mesolithic human remains are "extremely rare discoveries" in this country.
"Cheddar man has all the bits but we only have a lot of long bones, a few cranial parts and a couple of pieces of pelvis," she said of the latest discovery.
"But it's very exciting to find human remains of this date."
She added the cave was "completely destroyed" by quarrying in the 1990s, so the bones are the "only surviving evidence for what now appears to have been a rare Mesolithic burial site".
Back to Life
The bygone Britons were brought back to life over the course of 14 months by Oscar Nilsson, an archaeologist and sculptor who has reimagined the faces of other individuals in history, including a 1,200-year-old Peruvian noblewoman and a 9,000-year-old teenager from Greece. Nilsson’s forensic technique starts with an exact 3D replica of the original skull, scanned, printed, and then modeled by hand to reflect bone structure and tissue thickness based on the individual’s origin, sex, and estimated age at death.
Recent genome studies of ancient European populations enable Nilsson to outfit his reconstructions with reasonably accurate estimates of skin, hair, and eye color. The Neolithic population that the 5,600-year-old Whitehawk woman belonged to, for instance, generally had lighter skin and darker eyes than earlier occupants of Britain such as Cheddar Man, but were darker than the exhibit’s Ditchling Road man, who arrived on the island in the first wave of light-skinned, light-eyed Beaker people from continental Europe around 4,400 years ago.
As the U.K. approaches what is likely the final months of Brexit negotiations, the faces of ancient Brighton residents will likely spark conversations about the regions previous occupants and cultural connections to continental Europe, says Le Saux.
“One of the stories that we're going with is how often we've been linked to Europe, and how much of our history is informed by series of mass migrations in each period,” he explains, adding that Britain has been physically part of mainland Europe several times over history, the last time just 8,000 years ago.
Ten years of ancient genome analysis has taught scientists ‘what it means to be human’
The hair, which was preserved in arctic permafrost in Greenland, was collected in the 1980s and stored at a museum in Denmark. It wasn’t until 2010 that evolutionary biologist Professor Eske Willerslev was able to use pioneering shotgun DNA sequencing to reconstruct the genetic history of the hair.
He found it came from a man from the earliest known people to settle in Greenland known as the Saqqaq culture. It was the first time scientists had recovered an entire ancient human genome.
Now a review of the first decade of ancient genomics of the Americas published in Nature today (June 16 2021) written by Professor Willerslev a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen, with one of his longstanding collaborators Professor David Meltzer, an archaeologist based at Southern Methodist University, Texas, shows how the world’s first analysis of an ancient genome sparked an incredible ‘decade of discovery’.
Professor Willerslev said: “The last ten years has been full of surprises in the understanding of the peopling of the Americas – I often feel like a child at Christmas waiting to see what exciting DNA present I am about to unwrap! What has really blown my mind is how resilient and capable the early humans we have sequenced DNA from were – they occupied extremely different environments and often populated them in a short space of time.
“We were taught in school that people would stay put until the population grew to a level where the resources were exhausted. But we found people were spreading around the world just to explore, to discover, to have adventures.
“The last 10 years have shown us a lot about our history and what it means to be human. We won’t ever see that depth of human experience on this planet again – people entered new areas with absolutely no idea of what was in front of them. It tells us a lot about human adaptability and how humans behave.”
For decades, scientists relied on archaeological findings to reconstruct the past and theories weren’t always accurate. It was previously thought, that there were early non-Native American people in the Americas but the ancient DNA analysis so far has shown that all of the ancient remains found are more closely related to contemporary Native Americans than to any other population anywhere else in the world.
Professor Meltzer, who worked on the review with Professor Willerslev while the former was at St John’s College as a Beaufort Visiting Scholar added: “Genomic evidence has shown connections that we didn’t know existed between different cultures and populations and the absence of connections that we thought did exist. Human population history been far more complex than previously thought.
“A lot of what has been discovered about the peopling of the Americas could not have been predicted. We have seen how rapidly people were moving around the world when they have a continent to themselves, there was nothing to hold them back. There was a selective advantage to seeing what was over the next hill.”
In 2013, scientists mapped the genome of a four-year-old boy who died in south-central Siberia 24,000 years ago. The burial of an Upper Palaeolithic Siberian child was discovered in the 1920s by Russian archaeologists near the village of Mal’ta, along the Belaya river. Sequencing of the Mal’ta genome was key as it showed the existence of a previously unsampled population that contributed to the ancestry of Siberian and Native American populations.
Two years later, Professor Willerslev and his team published the first ancient Native American genome, sequenced from the remains of a baby boy ceremonially buried more than 12,000 years ago in Anzick, Montana.
In 2015, their ancient genomic analysis was able to solve the mystery of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in the Americas, and one of the most controversial.
The 9,000-year-old remains had been surrounded by a storm of controversy when legal jurisdiction over the skeleton became the focus of a decade of lawsuits between five Native American tribes, who claimed ownership of the man they called Ancient One, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Professor Willerslev, who has rightly learnt to be mindful of cultural sensitivities when searching for ancient DNA, has spent much of the past decade talking to tribal community members to explain his work in detail and seek their support.
This meant he was able to agree with members of the Colville Tribe, based in Washington State where the remains were found, that they would donate some of their DNA to allow Professor Willerslev and his team to establish if there was a genetic link between them and Kennewick Man.
Jackie Cook, a descendant of the Colville Tribe and the repatriation specialist for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said: “We had spent nearly 20 years trying to have the Ancient One repatriated to us. There has been a long history of distrust between scientists and our Native American tribes but when Eske presented to us about his DNA work on the Anzick child, the hair on my arms stood up.
“We knew we shouldn’t have to agree to DNA testing, and there were concerns that we would have to do it every time to prove cultural affiliation, but our Council members discussed it with the elders and it was agreed that any tribal member who wanted to provide DNA for the study could.”
The Kennewick Man genome, like the Anzick baby, revealed the man was a direct ancestor of living Native Americans. The Ancient One was duly returned to the tribes and reburied.
Cook added: “We took a risk but it worked out. It was remarkable to work with Eske and we felt honoured, relieved and humbled to be able to resolve such an important case. We had oral stories that have passed down through the generations for thousands of years that we call coyote stories – teaching stories. These stories were from our ancestors about living alongside woolly mammoths and witnessing a series of floods and volcanoes erupting. As a tribe, we have always embraced science but not all history is discovered through science.”
Work led by Professor Willerslev was also able to identify the origins of the world’s oldest natural mummy called Spirit Cave. Scientists discovered the ancient human skeleton back in 1940 but it wasn’t until 2018 that a striking discovery was made that unlocked the secrets of the Ice Age tribe in the Americas.
The revelation came as part of a study that genetically analysed the DNA of a series of famous and controversial ancient remains across North and South America including Spirit Cave, the Lovelock skeletons, the Lagoa Santa remains, an Inca mummy, and the oldest remains in Chilean Patagonia.
Scientists sequenced 15 ancient genomes spanning from Alaska to Patagonia and were able to track the movements of the first humans as they spread across the Americas at ‘astonishing’ speed during the Ice Age and also how they interacted with each other in the following millennia.
The team of academics not only discovered that the Spirit Cave remains was a Native American but they were able to dismiss a longstanding theory that a group called Paleoamericans existed in North America before Native Americans. Spirit Cave was returned to The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, a group of Native Americans based in Nevada, for burial.
Professor Willerslev added: “Over the past decade human history has been fundamentally changed thanks to ancient genomic analysis – and the incredible findings have only just begun.”
The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets
In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.
The skull, while clearly old, did not look Native American. At first glance, Chatters thought it might belong to an early pioneer or trapper. But the teeth were cavity-free (signaling a diet low in sugar and starch) and worn down to the roots—a combination characteristic of prehistoric teeth. Chatters then noted something embedded in the hipbone. It proved to be a stone spearpoint, which seemed to clinch that the remains were prehistoric. He sent a bone sample off for carbon dating. The results: It was more than 9,000 years old.
Thus began the saga of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas and an object of deep fascination from the moment it was discovered. It is among the most contested set of remains on the continents as well. Now, though, after two decades, the dappled, pale brown bones are at last about to come into sharp focus, thanks to a long-awaited, monumental scientific publication next month co-edited by the physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley, of the Smithsonian Institution. No fewer than 48 authors and another 17 researchers, photographers and editors contributed to the 680-page Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Texas A&M University Press), the most complete analysis of a Paleo-American skeleton ever done.
Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Peopling of the Americas Publications)
Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Peopling of the Americas Publications) [Douglas W. Owsley, Richard L. Jantz] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Almost from the day of its accidental discovery along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State in July 1996
The book recounts the history of discovery, presents a complete inventory of the bones and explores every angle of what they may reveal. Three chapters are devoted to the teeth alone, and another to green stains thought to be left by algae. Together, the findings illuminate this mysterious man’s life and support an astounding new theory of the peopling of the Americas. If it weren’t for a harrowing round of panicky last-minute maneuvering worthy of a legal thriller, the remains might have been buried and lost to science forever.
The projecting face and nasal architecture (skull cast) are seen among Polynesians. (Grant Delin)
Though buried far inland, Kennewick Man ate marine life and drank glacial meltwater. Analysis of just one of his worn teeth might pin down his childhood home. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) “I’ve looked at thousands of skeletons,” says Douglas Owsley. “They were people, and there were people who cared about them.” (Grant Delin) Some 20 years before his death, Kennewick Man took a spearpoint to the hip that remains lodged in his bone. (Grant Delin) Some 20 years before his death, Kennewick Man took a spearpoint to the hip that remains lodged in his bone. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Other injuries include skull fractures, perhaps from rock throwing, and broken ribs that never fully healed. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Other injuries include skull fractures, perhaps from rock throwing, and broken ribs that never fully healed. (Grant Delin) Before eroding out, Kennewick Man lay faceup with his head upstream. Scientists concluded from his position (right, at the discovery site but deeper into the bank) that his body was buried intentionally. ( Photograph by Thomas W. Stafford / Illustration from Douglas Owsley / NMNH, SI) Amanda Danning, Sculptor, from Bay City, Texas doing a facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man September 30, 2009 ( Donald E. Hurlbert / NMNH, SI) Kennewick Man’s bones are arranged in anatomical position by NMNH’s Kari Bruwelheide. This was shot during one of the rare scientific study sessions allowed with the Kennwick skeleton. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Mandible fragment taken during the third scientific study session at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington State, and during follow-up studio photography of the stereolithographic cast skull and points at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Rib fragments (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Bust depicting Kennewick man. (Grant Delin) Bust depicting Kennewick man. (Grant Delin) Dr. Douglas Owsley in his office workspace at NMNH May 29, 2014. Various cases he is examining are spread out on the work space. (Grant Delin) (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Rib fragments showing details of the ends. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Kennewick Man pelvis. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Kennewick Man’s bones are arranged in anatomical position by NMNH’s Kari Bruwelheide. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI)
The storm of controversy erupted when the Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the land where the bones had been found, learned of the radiocarbon date. The corps immediately claimed authority—officials there would make all decisions related to handling and access—and demanded that all scientific study cease. Floyd Johnson protested, saying that as county coroner he believed he had legal jurisdiction. The dispute escalated, and the bones were sealed in an evidence locker at the sheriff’s office pending a resolution.
“At that point,” Chatters recalled to me in a recent interview, “I knew trouble was coming.” It was then that he called Owsley, a curator at the National Museum of Natural History and a legend in the community of physical anthropologists. He has examined well over 10,000 sets of human remains during his long career. He had helped identify human remains for the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and various police departments, and he had worked on mass graves in Croatia and elsewhere. He helped reassemble and identify the dismembered and burned bodies from the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Later, he did the same with the Pentagon victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Owsley is also a specialist in ancient American remains.
“You can count on your fingers the number of ancient, well-preserved skeletons there are” in North America, he told me, remembering his excitement at first hearing from Chatters. Owsley and Dennis Stanford, at that time chairman of the Smithsonian’s anthropology department, decided to pull together a team to study the bones. But corps attorneys showed that federal law did, in fact, give them jurisdiction over the remains. So the corps seized the bones and locked them up at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, often called Battelle for the organization that operates the lab.
Map of Kennewick (Jamie Simon )
At the same time, a coalition of Columbia River Basin Indian tribes and bands claimed the skeleton under a 1990 law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. The tribes demanded the bones for reburial. “Scientists have dug up and studied Native Americans for decades,” a spokesman for the Umatilla tribe, Armand Minthorn, wrote in 1996. “We view this practice as desecration of the body and a violation of our most deeply-held religious beliefs.” The remains, the tribe said, were those of a direct tribal ancestor. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time. We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.” The coalition announced that as soon as the corps turned the skeleton over to them, they would bury it in a secret location where it would never be available to science. The corps made it clear that, after a monthlong public comment period, the tribal coalition would receive the bones.
The tribes had good reason to be sensitive. The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people. NAGPRA was passed to redress this history and allow tribes to reclaim their ancestors’ remains and some artifacts. The Smithsonian, under the National Museum of the American Indian Act, and other museums under NAGPRA, have returned (and continue to return) many thousands of remains to tribes. This is being done with the crucial help of anthropologists and archaeologists—including Owsley, who has been instrumental in repatriating remains from the Smithsonian’s collection. But in the case of Kennewick, Owsley argued, there was no evidence of a relationship with any existing tribes. The skeleton lacked physical features characteristic of Native Americans.
In the weeks after the Army engineers announced they would return Kennewick Man to the tribes, Owsley went to work. “I called and others called the corps. They would never return a phone call. I kept expressing an interest in the skeleton to study it—at our expense. All we needed was an afternoon.” Others contacted the corps, including members of Congress, saying the remains should be studied, if only briefly, before reburial. This was what NAGPRA in fact required: The remains had to be studied to determine affiliation. If the bones showed no affiliation with a present-day tribe, NAGPRA didn’t apply.
But the corps indicated it had made up its mind. Owsley began telephoning his colleagues. “I think they’re going to rebury this,” he said, “and if that happens, there’s no going back. It’s gone."
Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (National Anthropological Archives ) Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (National Anthropological Archives ) Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (Dr. George Monatandon / Au Pays des Ainou ) After muscle and tissue were sculpted, added creases aged the eyes. (Donald E. Hurlbert / NMNH, SI)
So Owsley and several of his colleagues found an attorney, Alan Schneider. Schneider contacted the corps and was also rebuffed. Owsley suggested they file a lawsuit and get an injunction. Schneider warned him: “If you’re going to sue the government, you better be in it for the long haul.”
Owsley assembled a group of eight plaintiffs, prominent physical anthropologists and archaeologists connected to leading universities and museums. But no institution wanted anything to do with the lawsuit, which promised to attract negative attention and be hugely expensive. They would have to litigate as private citizens. “These were people,” Schneider said to me later, “who had to be strong enough to stand the heat, knowing that efforts might be made to destroy their careers. And efforts were made.”
When Owsley told his wife, Susan, that he was going to sue the government of the United States, her first response was: “Are we going to lose our home?” He said he didn’t know. “I just felt,” Owsley told me in a recent interview, “this was one of those extremely rare and important discoveries that come once in a lifetime. If we lost it”—he paused. “Unthinkable.”
Working like mad, Schneider and litigating partner Paula Barran filed a lawsuit. With literally hours to go, a judge ordered the corps to hold the bones until the case was resolved.
When word got out that the eight scientists had sued the government, criticism poured in, even from colleagues. The head of the Society for American Archaeology tried to get them to drop the lawsuit. Some felt it would interfere with the relationships they had built with Native American tribes. But the biggest threat came from the Justice Department itself. Its lawyers contacted the Smithsonian Institution warning that Owsley and Stanford might be violating “criminal conflict of interest statutes which prohibit employees of the United States” from making claims against the government.
“I operate on a philosophy,” Owsley told me, “that if they don’t like it, I’m sorry: I’m going to do what I believe in.” He had wrestled in high school and, even though he often lost, he earned the nickname “Scrapper” because he never quit. Stanford, a husky man with a full beard and suspenders, had roped in rodeos in New Mexico and put himself through graduate school by farming alfalfa. They were no pushovers. “The Justice Department squeezed us really, really hard,” Owsley recalled. But both anthropologists refused to withdraw, and the director of the National Museum of Natural History at the time, Robert W. Fri, strongly supported them even over the objections of the Smithsonian’s general counsel. The Justice Department backed off.
Owsley and his group were eventually forced to litigate not just against the corps, but also the Department of the Army, the Department of the Interior and a number of individual government officials. As scientists on modest salaries, they could not begin to afford the astronomical legal bills. Schneider and Barran agreed to work for free, with the faint hope that they might, someday, recover their fees. In order to do that they would have to win the case and prove the government had acted in “bad faith”—a nearly impossible hurdle. The lawsuit dragged on for years. “We never expected them to fight so hard,” Owsley says. Schneider says he once counted 93 government attorneys directly involved in the case or cc’ed on documents.
Meanwhile, the skeleton, which was being held in trust by the corps, first at Battelle and later at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle, was badly mishandled and stored in “substandard, unsafe conditions,” according to the scientists. In the storage area where the bones were (and are) being kept at the Burke Museum, records show there have been wide swings in temperature and humidity that, the scientists say, have damaged the specimen. When Smithsonian asked about the scientists’ concerns, the corps disputed that the environment is unstable, pointing out that expert conservators and museum personnel say that “gradual changes are to be expected through the seasons and do not adversely affect the collection.”
Somewhere in the move to Battelle, large portions of both femurs disappeared. The FBI launched an investigation, focusing on James Chatters and Floyd Johnson. It even went so far as to give Johnson a lie detector test after several hours of accusatory questioning, Johnson, disgusted, pulled off the wires and walked out. Years later, the femur bones were found in the county coroner’s office. The mystery of how they got there has never been solved.
The scientists asked the corps for permission to examine the stratigraphy of the site where the skeleton had been found and to look for grave goods. Even as Congress was readying a bill to require the corps to preserve the site, the corps dumped a million pounds of rock and fill over the area for erosion control, ending any chance of research.
I asked Schneider why the corps so adamantly resisted the scientists. He speculated that the corps was involved in tense negotiations with the tribes over a number of thorny issues, including salmon fishing rights along the Columbia River, the tribes’ demand that the corps remove dams and the ongoing, hundred-billion-dollar cleanup of the vastly polluted Hanford nuclear site. Schneider says that a corps archaeologist told him “they weren’t going to let a bag of old bones get in the way of resolving other issues with the tribes.”
Asked about its actions in the Kennewick Man case, the corps told Smithsonian: “The United States acted in accordance with its interpretation of NAGPRA and its concerns about the safety and security of the fragile, ancient human remains.”
Ultimately, the scientists won the lawsuit. The court ruled in 2002 that the bones were not related to any living tribe: thus NAGPRA did not apply. The judge ordered the corps to make the specimen available to the plaintiffs for study. The government appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in 2004 again ruled resoundingly in favor of the scientists, writing:
About Douglas Preston
Douglas Preston is a journalist and author, renowned for his best-selling suspense novels co-authored by Lincoln Child, such as Cold Vengeance. He has also written or co-written The Lost Island, White Fire, The Kraken Project and Cities of Gold.
Ancient Bones Spark Fresh Debate over First Humans in the Americas
Who were the first Americans and when and how did they get here? For decades archaeologists thought they knew the answers to these questions. Based on the available evidence, it seemed big game hunters from Asia known as the Clovis people were the first to blaze that trail, trekking across the now submerged land mass of Beringia to enter the New World around 13,000 years ago.
But starting in the early 2000s signs of an earlier human presence in the Americas started to crop up, eroding support for the so-called Clovis first model. A new understanding of how people finally conquered the New World began to take shape: Homo sapiens arrived by boat by at least 15,000 years ago, following the western coast of the Americas.
Now the scientists behind a new discovery are looking to rewrite the story of human colonization of the Americas once again&mdashand in a far more radical fashion. In a paper published today in Nature, researchers describe broken bones of a mastodon (an extinct relative of elephants) and battered rocks from a site in southern California. The team argues the remains demonstrate humans were in the Americas 130,000 years ago, in the early late Pleistocene epoch. If they are right, the find could call into question the long-held assumption that H. sapiens was the first and only member of the human family to reach the New World, because it hails from a time when multiple human species, including the Neandertals, roamed the planet. It could also suggest archaeologists have missed a more than 100,000-year record of humans in this part of the world. But the announcement has met with sharp criticism from other scientists, who variously argue the remains do not necessarily reflect human activity, and that their age is uncertain.
Paleontologists excavated the remains in the early 1990s from a site in San Diego County that was discovered during the course of highway improvements to State Route 54. The researchers recovered bones of a number of different ice age species from different stratigraphic levels in the site. For the new study, Steven Holen of the San Diego Natural History Museum and his colleagues focused on the partial skeleton of a male mastodon found in this location, dubbed the Cerutti Mastodon site for its discoverer, study co-author Richard Cerutti, also at the museum. The mastodon&rsquos limb bones bear evidence of distinctive breaks called spiral fractures that wind around the long axis of the bone. Such fractures typically occur when force is applied to fresh bone. The ends of some of the bones were also broken off, and several large, battered stone cobbles lay nearby. When the team experimentally broke bones from the carcasses of large modern-day mammals using hammerstones and anvils, the resulting damage resembled that seen on the bones and stone cobbles from site. Together, the pattern of damage evident on the bones and stones, and the proximity of the rocks to the bones suggest to the team humans were pounding the bones with the rocks to get to the nutritious marrow inside or to make bone tools.
None of that would be remarkable in and of itself. Such behaviors have been well documented at archaeological sites around the world. What makes the discovery a big deal is the supposed age of the remains. The team determined the age of the mastodon bones by applying a technique called uranium series dating, which uses the radioactive decay of uranium to measure the passage of time. The results indicated the bones are 130,000 years old, give or take 9,000 years&mdashmore than 100,000 years older than the oldest commonly accepted archaeological sites in the Americas.
Today the Cerutti Mastodon site sits in the middle of an urban setting. But 130,000 years ago during the last interglacial period it was a meandering stream in a flood plain near the coastline. Camels, dire wolves and capybara roamed there. &ldquoIt was a very nice place to live,&rdquo Holen said at a press teleconference on April 25.
If Holen and his colleagues are correct about the age and nature of the finds, researchers will need to rethink everything they thought they knew about the peopling of the New World, including which human species was the first to colonize it. Most researchers agree humans came to the Americas from northeastern Asia. At 130,000 years ago, the authors argue, H. sapiens, H. erectus, the Neandertals and the Denisovans (a group known only from ancient DNA recovered from Denisova cave in Siberia) might have been present in that part of the world. They could have crossed Beringia on foot prior to 135,000 years ago, when sea levels were sufficiently low. Otherwise, they could have traveled by boat, following the coasts of Asia, Beringia and North America to reach the latitude of the Cerutti Mastodon site.
During the press teleconference Holen said the new find should encourage other archaeologists to go out and look for more sites of this age&mdashsomething he says they had not done previously because no one expected humans to be in the Americas so early.
Experts not involved in the new study expressed deep skepticism about the team&rsquos assessment, particularly the claim that the broken bones and battered stones reflect human activity. &ldquoYou can&rsquot push human antiquity in the New World back 100,000 years based on evidence as inherently ambiguous as broken bones and nondescript stones&mdashnot when they are coming from a highway salvage excavation done 25 years ago, and you have none of the detailed taphonomic evidence demanded of such a grandiose claim,&rdquo says David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University, an authority on the peopling of the Americas.
That lack of taphonomic evidence&mdashinformation about what happened to the remains between when they were deposited and when they were discovered&mdashcomes down to &ldquothe difference between paleontological and archaeological excavation,&rdquo says archaeologist Andy Hemmings of Florida Atlantic University, referring to the different approaches scientists use to unearth fossils as opposed to traces of material culture, which require more detailed provenience. &ldquoThey didn&rsquot map in every plottable object and pay attention to the relationships between items. Were pieces found 15 feet apart or 15 centimeters apart?&rdquo he says. Such information is important for reconstructing how the bones broke and what, if any, relationship existed between the bones and the rocks.
Although the researchers were able to experimentally reproduce the damage on the remains by processing fresh bone with stone tools, critics observe, the team did not rule out alternative causes. &ldquoIt is one thing to show that broken bones and modified rocks could have been produced by people, which Holen and his colleagues have done. It is quite another to show that people, and people alone, could have produced those modifications. This, Holen [and his colleagues] have most certainly not done, making this a very easy claim to dismiss,&rdquo says archaeologist Donald Grayson of the University of Washington. Other commenters explained the team needs to look at many more fossil assemblages of large mammal bones, to see if natural causes could explain the breakage patterns evident in at the Cerutti Mastodon site.
Neither is simple hammerstone/anvil technology alone what many experts expect to see at a 130,000-year-old site. James Adovasio of Florida Atlantic says butchery sites of comparable age from other parts of the world tend to contain incontrovertible stone tools. He notes that by this time period humans were master stone knappers, capable of creating a variety of sophisticated, sharp-edged tools for cutting and slicing. &ldquoThe utter absence of these things here is, shall we say, perplexing,&rdquo he comments. Adovasio led the excavations at the controversial site of Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania that dates to perhaps 16,000 years ago.
The possibility archaic humans might have made it to the New World is another stumbling point for some critics. The Bering Strait was flooded 130,000 years ago, notes Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon, a leading proponent of the coastal route model. &ldquoThere&rsquos some evidence that Homo erectus was able to cross a few small bodies of water, but no evidence that erectus, or Neandertals for that matter, could do long-range voyaging or that they had sophisticated boats like modern humans had when they colonized Australia.&rdquo
Species questions notwithstanding, if humans did enter the New World as early as Holen and his collaborators would have it, why is there such a yawning gap in the archaeological record between the Cerutti Mastodon remains and the next oldest sites in the Americas? &ldquoIf there were people in San Diego 130,000 years ago, you have to explain why there weren&rsquot any more of them there until 115,000 years after that,&rdquo Erlandson contends. He takes issue with the authors&rsquo suggestion investigators simply have not been looking for remains that old, noting he and other archaeologists have been doing exactly that for quite some time, often through the same sort of construction-monitoring efforts that led to the discovery of the Cerutti Mastodon site. &ldquoI&rsquove done quite a bit of construction monitoring in the Santa Barbara area and we&rsquove carefully monitored excavations down to sediments of the same age. We were looking out for artifacts and didn&rsquot find them,&ldquo he says. &ldquoIt boggles the mind that no one has found anything despite decades of geological monitoring.&rdquo Erlandson adds that there is a long history of people making claims for extraordinarily early sites in the Americas, including the site of Calico Hills in California, which the famed Kenyan paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey argued was perhaps 200,000 years old. But these claims have all been debunked.
Not only are there no other traces of humans in the Americas anywhere near 130,000 years old, there are also no any signs of human activity in the region from which humans are thought to have first entered the New World. &ldquoThere is not a whisper of anything that age in northeast Asia,&rdquo observes archaeologist Robin Dennell of the University of Exeter in England, who studies the dispersal of human ancestors across Asia, Australia and the Americas. For his part, Dennell is not bothered by the team&rsquos interpretation of the bones and stones as signs of human activity. But he is concerned about the dating. &ldquoThe case for the site being 130,000 years old appears to rest on just three uranium-series dates,&rdquo he observes. &ldquoI&rsquod want to see Cerutti Mastodon covered in more dates than a [date] palm tree before claiming it was in the last interglacial.&rdquo
Archaeological dating experts not involved in the research had mixed reactions to the study. &ldquoI think the dating is sound,&rdquo says geochronologist Rainer Gr ü n of Griffith University in Australia. But geochemist Bonnie Blackwell of Williams College thinks the team could do more to bolster its case. Bone is spongy and uranium can be absorbed into it or leached out of it in ways that affect the accuracy of the dating results. She would like to see the mastodon teeth from the site dated using a technique called electron spin resonance (ESR), which looks at the electrons in the tooth enamel to estimate age. Blackwell has used a combination of uranium series and ESR to successfully date mastodon remains from the site of Hopwood Farm in Illinois.
&ldquoWe need to leave our minds open. I admire these colleagues for sticking their necks out. They should be commended for doing that,&rdquo says archaeologist Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University, who fought for years to convince the archaeological community that remains from the controversial site of Monte Verde in Chile predate the Clovis culture. Today most scholars accept that Monte Verde dates back to around 15,000 years old, if not 18,000 to 20,000 years ago, as Dillehay would have it. &ldquoBut more evidence is going to be needed&rdquo for something this early, he says of the claims for human activity at the Cerutti Mastodon site.
Hemmings agrees. &ldquoI&rsquom all for hominins in the Americas by 130,000, but not on this evidence. There&rsquos not enough to open the champagne.&rdquo
1 Lincoln CastleEngland
In 2013, archaeologists working at Lincoln Castle made an exciting discovery. While excavating the castle&rsquos foundation, they found the remains of an ancient Saxon church. In the remains of this ancient church, they made an even more exciting find: a limestone sarcophagus that was buried at least 1,000 years ago. An intact sarcophagus from this time period is rare, since they&rsquore usually destroyed or at least damaged by layers of construction over time. A sarcophagus indicates high social status, and this was confirmed by pieces of leather shoes that were still on the skeleton&rsquos feet.
Nine more burials were recovered from the ancient church. These burials were from the same time period as the sarcophagus but were more simple, indicating that these people were not of noble status like man in the sarcophagus.
I am an archaeologist, working my way through the Southwestern United States. I have worked on ancient Maya sites in Central America and prehistoric Native American sites in the US, and I&rsquom just itching to work in Europe.