2015 ANNUAL MEETING

The 2015 Annual Meeting, held on February 22, 2015 at Farmington High School, 10 Montieth Drive, Farmington, CT, was highlighted by the presence of Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, as alluded to in the Annual Meeting Flyer which can be viewed by clicking .

In a nearly 2-hour talk, Dr. Owsley described not only the history of the finding and legal wrangling associated with the discovery, examination and ultimate fate of the skeleton but -- even more interesting -- the variety of tools he and his associates used to examine in detail the skeleton and what conclusions they were able to draw from it.

The skeleton itself was first discovered in 1996 by two college students watching boat races on the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington, who stumbled across a human skull in the shallow water near the shore. After reporting this to the police, subsequent investigations showed that the skeleton was between 8,430 and 9,200 years old; and this led to a historic legal confrontation, bitter political debates, and intense debates between scientists, government officials, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and Native American tribes over who should control such ancient finds ... and, who gets to decide. Dr. Owsley, a forensic anthropologist, was one of the principal scientists engaged in carefully choreographed examinations of the skeleton, stretching over 16 days, which were allowed them. Some of their findings included the following:

Note: Where an image is shown below, click it to get a larger view. All images shown here, as well as others, can be found in the Meeting's image collection, along with explanatory captions.

  • The use of advanced radiocarbon dating techniques was able to narrow the age-range of the skeleton to between 8,400 and 8,700 years old.

  • The man was robust for his time, standing 5' 7" high and weighing around 160 pounds.

  • The right arm was considerably more developed than the left. This was not the result of a genetic fault, but was instead likely the result of heavy use of that arm in the hunting techniques he used -- most likely that of heaving a spear or using an atlatl at marine life.

  • His right ilium (upper bone of the hip) had a small projectile point embedded in it. This is not what killed him, as the bone had partially grown around the point, which itself had shattered on impact; and that it occurred perhaps 20 years prior to his death. Based on the angle of the point, it's hypothesized that it was thrown at him from a distance of perhaps 30 yards ... with enough force to knock him off his feet on impact.

  • Many of the bones on the right side of his chest had been broken and had not fully healed. Speculation is that this may have happened at the same time that he received his hip wound.

  • Through use of CT scanning of the bones, followed up by 3D printing, resin replicants of the bones were made; and, later, those were used to make plastic casts.

  • The man's skull was relatively narrow and elongated. There was also evidence of considerable wear on his teeth, reminiscent of those seen in early Eskimos and others who routinely worked seal hide with their mouths to soften it.

  • Isotopic analysis of minute fragments of his bones resulted in a belief that, for most of his life, he had been a northern marine mammal hunter (esp. seal), who drank snow-melt water.

  • Using his experience with various human groups as a guide, Dr. Owsley made morphometic measurements of the skull, looking at relative sizes of the zygomatic (cheek) bone, brow ridges, jaw and nasal cavities, and comparing them with contemporary Native American and European (actually a Civil War veteran) skulls, and found that the Kennewick Man had neither European, Native American nor Polynesian ancestral roots, but instead shared roots with coastal East Asian peoples.

  • A forensic reconstruction of his skull was made, allowing us to see what he may well have looked like ... with necessary allowance being made for head and hair. (Lacking any soft tissues, we cannot determine whether there were things such as scars, tattoos, and so forth, either.)

  • Examination of calcium carbonate deposits on the bones along the river allowed researchers to determine that he had been buried, face up, at a slight angle with the head a little higher than the feet. The presence of carbonate deposits on one side of the bones, where the mineral collected (it was dissolved in the river water initially) after gravitic deposition from above. (This is a part of the science of taphonomy, the study of the how human and other remains fossilize or are otherwise affected by their surroundings after death.

  • Through corrasion examination of the bones (action of sand working against them from the river flow), it was determined that they had only been exposed for a few weeks before their discovery.

Unfortunately, this is only an overview of his talk. Many more details and images can be found in Dr. Owsley's book Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton, and in another book by James B. Chatters, Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans who also studied the skeleton.

> To view a flyer for the meeting, please click Meeting Flyer.

> To read an article on Kennewick Man, put out by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, please click Kennewick Man.

> For a biographical sketch of Dr. Owsley on Wikipedia, please click Douglas Owsley.

> Webmaster's Note: In the Spring 2008 FOSA Newsletter, an article appeared giving an update of the then-ongoing analysis of the Kennewick Man. Readers can access a reprint of the article by clicking Reprinted Article.


Preceding this was the "business" portion of the meeting. Highlights include:

> Recording Secretary Mike Cahill provided a year-in-review report on FOSA's 2014 activities.

> Nick Bellantoni spoke of his work at State Archaeologist leading up to his retirement last July; and of his work with the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, of which he's now a Board member.

> Brian Jones spoke of his work this past year since his becoming Connecticut's State Archaeologist, thanking FOSA members for all of the invaluable volunteer work they've provided.

> Scott Brady discussed this year's Nominations to the Board of Directors and for Correspondence Secretary.

> Mike Raber presented Certificate Achievement Awards, to Cynthia Redman for her work during her 3 terms as FOSA President, her organizational and leadership skills and work in the FOSA library; and to Joan McCarthy for her work as FOSA's Corresponding Secretary, an often anonymous and at-times thankless job which is nevertheless an absolutely necessary one. Both of their certificates can be viewed in the "Special Features" section of this web site by clicking .

> All this was kept in motion by FOSA President Mandy Ranslow, who also noted that this year's Archaeology Fair will be held on October 17 at Central Connecticut State University.


Images in this section courtesy of Jim Hall.