Kennewick Man Was Just Passing Through, Anthropologist Says

Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2012

The long-running detective saga involving one of North America’s earliest inhabitants has taken a new twist, with the discovery that Kennewick Man—the shockingly intact 9,300-year-old skeleton unearthed in 1996 on the banks of the Columbia River—probably was a visitor to central Washington, not a longtime resident.

More likely, Smithsonian Institution anthropologist Douglas Owsley announced in a pair of lectures last week in Washington state, he came from the coast, not the arid inland valley where his remains were found.

The conclusion is important in the quest to understand where the now-famous Paleoamerican came from and who his descendants might be. The ancient bones were the subject of a decade-long court fight over whether central Washington Native American tribes had claim to the remains for reburial.


Owsley, with science writer Sally Walker, has published a new book for teens, “Their Skeletons Speak: Kennewick Man and the Paleoamerican World,” in which he describes the painstaking process through which scientists have come to understand the mysterious man found by two youths watching a boat race.


Kennewick Man was 5 feet 6 to 5 feet 7 inches, weighed 154 to 165 pounds, and had strong, powerful legs, as would someone who moved quickly in water to spear fish or hunt small animals, Owsley says in the book.

His had not been an easy life. He had a depression in his skull above the left eye, where he must have fallen or been struck by a rock; he had a healed fracture of his right shoulder; he had a shoulder injury, most likely from repeated spear throwing, identical to the kind of injury baseball pitchers often suffer; and there was evidence of a terrible spear wound to his right hip, probably suffered when he was 15 to 20 years old.


The big news now, though, is that Kennewick Man—such a huge subject of contention in the inland Columbia Valley—didn’t come from there at all, but rather, most likely, the coast.

To try to figure this out, scientists determined a nitrogen isotope value for the bones, which suggested that his diet was not high in grazing animals such as deer and elk, but much more likely based on marine mammals such as seals, which feed on fish, Owsley said.


The new book goes on to document how scientists reached the conclusion from Kennewick Man’s skull size and shape that he was not directly related to modern-day Native Americans. He was most similar to the Moriori, a Polynesian people in the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand. He is also like the Moriori’s ancestors, the Ainu, who lived in coastal areas of mainland Asia 15,000 years ago.

“Did they leave their homeland when people from central Asia migrated to the coast?” Owsley and Walker ask. “Over many generations, had they paddled to new homes, some traveling south toward New Zealand, while others coast-hopped in boats northward and finally east to North America? Their skulls and those of the earliest Paleoamericans seem to support this.”

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  • Jed Sant Devi

    Perhaps he was a prophet who had the Dream one night in which God showed him the future of human progress, so he died of a broken heart.

    • Oil Can Harry

      Kennewick Man was a black Egyptian pharaoh whose plane crashed into the Columbia River.

      The blacks in ancient Egypts built planes many thousands of years ago. Sadly, their technology was stolen by those racists Orville and Wilbur, the WHITE Brothers. 

      • Jed Sant Devi

        Let’s see BRA Diversity boycott all air craft not piolted and maintained by Blacks Only.

        Dear God, please do that for us.

  • FourFooted_Messiah

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find Polynesian skeletons on the West coast.  The Polynesians managed to make it to some very astonishing places, such as Henderson, Christmas, and Easter Islands, so  why not North America?


    • Michael C. Scott

      The Polynesians did make it to South America.

  • This statement is false: “Moriori’s ancestors, the Ainu”. (It is ungrammatical besides. PUNCTUATION! DO YOU SPEAK IT?!)

    The Morioris’ ancestors are the Maori of New Zealand, and the Maori came from the Society Islands and the Cook Islands. Ultimately all the Polynesians are from the isle of Taiwan. The Ainu, meanwhile, are indigenous to Sakhalin and Hokkaido (and Honshu, they say). The aborigines of Taiwan and northern Japan have about as much in common as do the Berbers and the Irish.

    Anyway before now I never have heard that Kennewick Man had any ancestry from Polynesia / southeast Asia. I always heard “Ainu”; that is, ancestral coastal Siberia. This would make more sense given how, as Sarah Palin has noted, you can actually see Siberia from a house in western Alaska; it is a little more difficult to make out Tahiti from anywhere else on North America’s western coast.

    •  I will grant that Ainu and Maori fisherfolk might share adaptations and (more so) patterns of skeletal stress over a lifetime. File under “convergent evolution”. I bet both of them also look like Basques. Doesn’t mean they are the same population.

      For a similar phenomenon, check out Wikipedia on the “linsang”. The linsang is a relative of the cat, in Indonesia. There is also a (misnamed) “linsang” in Africa – which turns out to be a completely different carnivore. But since their ecological niche is the same in both continents, they evolved to be similar.

      • Persephone Gray

        The Maori are a very interesting case. They are not the same as other Polynesian peoples. Even their counting system is anomolous: the words for one, five, six, eight and nine (tahi, rima, ono, waru, iwa) are of Proto-Polynesian origin, while the words for two, three, four, seven and ten (rua, toru, wha, whitu, tekau) are of Indo-European origin. Many Maori words show a close relationship to ancient Greek, while a lower number seem to be related to Sanskrit.

        Early last century a linguistic scholar wrote a couple of books, based on a detailed analysis of the Maori language, promoting an Indo-European Maori origin hypothesis. His ideas were received favorably for a little while but were eventually dismissed without any good refutation. To this day I believe the linguistic anomolies of Maori have gone unaddressed by any mainstream scholar.

        • anonymous_amren

          If they can count all the way up to 10, that strongly suggests they aren’t closely related to Aborigines… Aborigines can only count up to 2 or 3 using normal numbers, or sometimes 6 if they are desperate and say “three three”.

          • Persephone Gray

            Yes, Australian Aborigines are possibly the most primitive hominids on this planet. That’s the main reason they were treated like animals by the colonizing whites. The Maori, on the other hand, were actually respected by the white colonizers of New Zealand for their intelligence, their personal dignity, and their ferocious and disciplined warrior spirit. They had a complex and rigid system of social hierarchy, ceremony and protocol, a well-developed theology, and the capacity for abstract thought. Their counting system is comparable to ours, with a decimal base and the ability to form numbers as high as necessary, i.e. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 = tekau-ma-tahi, tekau-ma-rua, tekau-ma-toru, tekau-ma-wha, tekau-ma-rima. Twenty is rua-tekau; thirty, toru-tekau, etc.

    • Persephone Gray

      The Maori are NOT the ancestors of the Moriori. The Moriori were already in New Zealand when the Maori arrived and killed them all. Now the only Moriori left are in the Chatham Islands, like the article says. The Maori and the Moriori are related, as both are Polynesian, but the precise relationship is uncertain. All we know is that they are distinct groups, and the Moriori were there before the Maori arrived.

      Both the Polynesian peoples and the Indian tribes of the Pacific Coast have DNA that shows a relationship to the people who now inhabit Taiwan.

    • anonymous_amren

       Where I come from, the word “ungrammatical” is also ungrammatical. Grammatical means “about grammar”. We would say “It is grammatically incorrect.” or “It has incorrect grammar.”

      Other than that, you make a good point.

  • Purestocles

    Captain Cook, who led the British exploration of the Northwest Coast, remarked upon the similarities in stature, curly hair, weapons, woven bark skirts, houses and decorative art motifs between the natives he encountered in the Vancouver area and those he encountered in Polynesia. Coincidence?  

    • 1911ThePunisher45

      Yeah, and you know Cook died, right?

    •  Convergence.

  • Gereng

    WOW!  Another puzzle. What the scientists surmize only serves to make his appearence here even more mysterious.  I wonder if anyone reading this story will recall another report that surfaced in Brazil about  15 yrs ago concerning a skull found in a cave there that seemed to be negroid. It was also predated any group who are supposed to have found their way to our contnent from Asia about 11,000 yrs ago. 

    The theory determined by the scientists who studied the skull was that a belt stretching around the globe near the equator was populated by a primitive black race.  Aborigines, Andaman islanders, Papuans and Africans, of course seemed to reached all these continents  and regions by some means at at roughly the same time. In the case of south America they were wiped out by the invading Asians coming down from the north.   

    • Perhaps at some point the Polynesians had a prehistoric but complex and widespread maritime civilization, maybe including the enslavement of Negrito-type peoples and even possibly Africans? It is not so far-fetched, considering that the Malagasy language of Madagascar is an Austronesian language, and Malayo-Polynesians were probably the first to settle that island. Asian/Pacific islander racial characteristics remain strong amongst the population of the Madagascar highlands.

  • Kennewickman


    If Kennewick
    Man came from the coastal area he was still the all American boy. And so were
    the people at Windover, Florida with clearly European DNA 7 to 8,000 years ago.
    In fact I have no knowledge of Mongoloid skeletons present in North America
    dating back behind 7,000 years.

    There is a disgusting
    cover up taking place here and I do have the proof.

  • Anyone remember Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki circa 1947?  Of course Polynesians made it to the Americas. I learned that as a schoolboy reading on my own. What’s the controversy?

  • Highland

    Polynesians, according to scientists, combine mixed races from India and Indonesia.
    They were known to travel long distances over the open ocean.

    However, Kennewick man, given DNA evidence, is not Polynesian or Native but conclusively Caucasoid.

    Kennewick man may represent the remnants of a lost civilisation torn apart by tectonic activity and reduced to hunter-gatherer state.

  • Yama_arashi

    An important point here is that the press is spinning the story to cover up the evidence of those who predated the Siberians in North America. Just passing through my … Also important is the fact that Europeans settled North America before Siberians got here.  Some have mentioned this here.
    Also, Kennewick Man predated the accepted Polynesian settlement of the Pacific by thousands of years. He could be related to ancestors of the Polynesians but he couldn’t be a Polynesian  according to the accepted timeline. Since there is a lot of evidence of Caucasians (Solutrians, as previously mentioned by another poster) settling N.A. from Europe and little evidence of European DNA (though there is some), what happened to the first European North Americans? Wilding? Youths? Polar Bear Hunting? Flash Mobs? Knockout King? 

  • 5n4k33y35

    Kennewick Man was a relevant point of contention for racial disputes back when people bothered to entertain the idea of collective racial guilt.

    I do not believe the concept has any validity whatsoever, so I don’t really care what he was or wasn’t. Even if my ancestors were proven to have come from Mars, I wouldn’t feel any less entitled to my natural rights.

    For me, the topic of Kennewick Man is purely academic, although still interesting.

    • JohnEngelman

      And if you migrated legally from China and became an American citizen you would have and deserve the same rights as if your ancestors came over in the Mayflower and signed the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. 

  • Looks like the L.A. times is trying to bring in this whole ‘Asian’ theory to try and muddy the waters with their historical revisionism and fool the next generation from coming to the belief that Kennewick Man was a White Man who even resembles Captain Picard!

  • TheAntidote

    The bottom line is that Kenniwick man is not related to any of the Injun tribes of the Pacific Northwest nor in fact to any Amerindians. So the tug of war over his old bones is over and and they’re heading to a museum case instead of the dirt of a reservation.