Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bones Of Contention: PC, Religion, Science

"Kennewick Man", "Beauty of Loulan",
and Where Have All The Horses Gone?

Kennewick Man may or may not be a familiar name to you. It should be. For along with that name there follows an odd trail of political intrigue, distortions, religious animus, and a host of other strange behavior. All of it surrounding the skeletal remains of a man who lived, and died, over 9,000 years ago.

From Wikipedia:
Kennewick Man is the name for the remains of a prehistoric man found on a bank of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington, on July 28, 1996. The discovery of Kennewick Man was accidental: a pair of spectators at the yearly hydroplane races found his skull while watching the races.

After removing the skull from the muck, the County Coroner, Floyd Johnson, put it in a bucket and hauled it to the home of James Chatters. Chatters is a free-lance anthropologist who works out of a basement-lab in his home. From Willamette Week:
The pair later went back to the site and, miraculously, found almost all of Kennewick Man's bones, which had been scattered downstream by the current.

Chatters began studying and measuring, eventually sending some bone fragments to the University of California for radiocarbon dating.

When the results came back, Chatters was dumbstruck. The skeleton lying on his makeshift examination table was among the oldest ever found in North America. As such, Kennewick Man belongs to an exclusive club of a dozen or so paleoskeletons that provide the earliest evidence of the human population of North America. Kennewick Man is arguably the best-preserved of the bunch.

"He has a lot to let us know about his time in history," Chatters says. Most significantly, studies of Kennewick Man could help trace the path of some of America's first human inhabitants.

But that path was endangered almost from the start. First, Native American tribes got into the act, demanding the return of their "ancestor" so it could be reburied "in secret". Soon after the radio-carbon dating results came back, the bones were seized by the Army Corps of Engineers, on whose land the remains had been found. (Funny, I don't recall hearing that the ACE was a land-owner, but ... what do I know, eh?) From Willamette Week:
The corps was acting on behalf of five Native American tribes who have claimed that Kennewick man was their ancestor: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Wanapum Band.

Since they first heard about the skeleton, the tribes have repeated a single message: Kennewick Man must be put back in the ground.


Why? Why the need to bury bones that had never been interred by human hand? Because the Native Americans have fought for years to have the remains of their loved ones returned. They have seen burial grounds dug up in a search for scientific information, bones for display, artifacts for money. And as far as the Native Americans are concerned, if bones were found that predate the white Colonialists, then they are Indian! The desecrations of their ancestors' resting places had to stop! From Willamette Week:
In 1990, Native Americans made that case to Congress.

What resulted was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which gave Indians the right to reclaim their ancestors' remains and cultural artifacts. It applied not only to skeletons and objects in museums, but to new archaeological finds as well. The impact this has had on both tribes and scientists cannot be underestimated.

Citing NAGPRA, the five tribes demanded that Kennewick Man be returned to them for reburial. That's why the corps put a stop to DNA testing already in progress and locked the skeleton in the Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

There's just one problem: The ancient skeleton might not be an Indian at all.

Ahhh, and therein lies the problem!

Accepted anthropological data tells us that caucasian people - Whites - came to this continent only in the past 1,000 years or so. Science will admit that perhaps a few early Irish found their way here, and the Viking (Norse) voyages are pretty well accepted. But nothing else! No way! Anything beyond that is not acceptable. And why? Because that means that the entrenched acolytes of the Ivory Halls of Science will have to rethink what they "know" and teach. New information threatens the entire foundation of accepted history. So, nothing earlier than maybe some early Irish will be allowed.

Although science continues to discover that human habitation of the Americas is older than previously imagined - we used to be taught that man first arrived here about 12,000 years ago, crossing the Bering Land Bridge - every new discovery is fought tooth-and-nail. Not because the findings are wrong, or doctored, but because they are a threat. I recall watching a PBS documentary - it might have been the Discovery or History channel - that showed an anthropologist in South America who believed that she had discovered human remains that were more than 20,000 years old. Her position at a University was threatened because of this. "Lock-step, People! Lock-step!"

From Willamette Week, again:
If Kennewick Man does appear "Caucasoid"--a term, referring to skulls that have both Asian and European features, that Chatters has used in more cautious moments--it could change the way Americans see the past. (It should be noted, however, that the Caucasoid label has been disputed by other scientists.)

Most public school students are taught that the New World was first populated with a single migration some 12,000 years ago. According to history books, these first inhabitants were ancestors of modern Native Americans who came from the Far East, through Alaska, and spread out through North America before being wiped out by the white man.

If Kennewick Man does indeed have "Caucasoid" features, he may have something in common with the other North American paleoskeletons, all of which have been described as having features that are to some degree Caucasoid.

Because these paleoskeletons don't resemble modern Native Americans, many scientists now suspect that North America was populated by several migrations of several different groups. What that could mean is that ancestors of modern Native Americans might not have been the first people in the New World.

That raises a sticky question, one that scientists are only beginning to ask: If Native Americans weren't the first people in the United States, then who were?

It is a question the tribes don't want to consider. "If this individual is truly over 9,000 years old, that only substantiates our belief that he is Native American," wrote Armand Minthorn. "From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time.... Some scientists say that if this individual is not studied further, we, as Indians, will be destroying evidence of our history. We already know our history."

And that is what the Army Corps of Engineers and the US government are allowing to control the debate? That is what they bow to when looking at science? Political Correctness is foolish enough, but when it goes beyond being nice to people, it is a dangerous dogma, indeed!

So what happened? Well ...
In September 1996, the Army Corps of Engineers placed a legal notice in the Washington Tri-City Herald advertising that the ancient remains would be repatriated to the five tribes within just a few weeks.

The corps' decision was puzzling for several reasons. The speed with which the corps acted was entirely out of character. NAGPRA is very ambiguous, especially with respect to paleoskeletons, which are in a category by themselves, according to scientists. The law also doesn't specifically address the question of whether scientific study is allowed prior to repatriation, yet the corps notice appeared to bar any testing.

Most curious, of course, was the fact that the corps decided to repatriate the skeleton based solely on the tribes' unsubstantiated claims that Kennewick Man was their ancestor. The only evidence the corps had at the time--Chatters' assessment, which was backed up by two scientists he had consulted--indicated something to the contrary.

When scientists realized the corps was going to turn the skeleton over to the tribes for immediate reburial, they were astounded and horrified.
And they filed suit. The judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks, accepted the lawsuit and ordered the ACE to stop. Strangely enough, while those bones were then in the possesion of this governmental agency, some of the bones are said to have been turned over to the Indians. The judge, on eight occassions, had to rebuke the ACE. Odd, isn't it? And nearly eight years later, Judge Jelderks ruled that the bones could be studied.

Why did that take so long? What was so frightening to the Indian tribes involved that those bones had to be hidden? Could it be that they were not the First People? Is it possible that others were here at the same time? Could whites have also shared this continent in prehistoric times? And if so, where did they all go?

One of the biological theories that is discredited in these PC days, says that when a people is weak a stronger people will move in. The stronger people will kill or absorb the weaker. Sounds fairly sensible to me. And it fits hand-in-glove with "known" history, doesn't it? We all "know" that the Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Lakota tribes. But they weren't the first people there. Those hills were peopled by other Indian tribes before the Lakota took them. And they didn't take them by asking, "May we?" They moved in on weaker tribes.

Thus we see that there is quicksand under the long-held contention that the land of North America was held by so-called Indians until the arrival of the White Man following the voyages of Columbus. There were other peoples here, too. Where did they go? Why fight so hard to hide the evidence of their existence?

In the 1980s, in western China, remains were found - mummies - of people with caucasian features. These were not the first mummies found there, nor the last. But they were among the best preserved. The age of The Beauty of Loulan is around 4,000 years - 2,000 BCE - and predates Chinese civilization as we know it. The mummies were discovered in an area called the Tarim Basin - tarim means agriculture in Turkish - a place dry enough to preserve the mummmies well. The Basin includes the Taklamakan Desert, known as the largest sand-only desert in the world. Among the many mummies discovered were quite a few with blonde hair, red hair, and caucasian features. The clothing they wore seemed to be of western european design. The mummy of a one-year-old boy had blonde hair, and blue stones had been placed over his eyes. These Taklamakan Mummies are thought to be of a Tocharian people - Indo-European - who immigrated into the area in the second millenium BCE. Could have been earlier. Tocharian or Tokharian is one of the most obscure branches of the group of Indo-European languages. The name of the language is taken from people known to the Greek historians (Ptolemy VI, 11, 6) as the Tocharians (Greek: Τόχαροι, "Tokharoi"). See The Curse of the Red-Headed Mummy for more.

Sure, this is getting thick, isn't it? What's the connection? Well, the Chinese governemnt, initially excited about the discovery, quickly came to their senses and denied permission to the anthropologists to remove the mummies from China for further examination. They finally relented - partially! - and allowed five of the mummies to be taken out. But the fear they had was that the mummies would be used by seperatists to influence world opinion. The seperatists in question? Uyghur Muslims.

Heather Pringle: "Historians had long suggested that the Uyghurs were relative latecomers to the region, migrating from the plains of Mongolia less than two thousand years ago. But Uyghur leaders were skeptical. They believed that their farmer ancestors had always lived along the thin but fertile river valleys of the Tarim, and as such they embraced the mummies as their kin -- even though many scholars [...] suspected that Uyghur invaders had slaughtered or driven out most of the mummies' true descendants and assimilated the few that remained. Still, in Xinjiang, Uyghur leaders picked one of the oldest mummies as an emblem of their cause." Which, of course, caused the Red Chinese to see those mummies as a matter of national security. Hide the evidence!

But by then it was too late. The world had already learned of the existence of "white" people who had lived in China long, long ago. And that's something you don't learn in school, do you? Too complicated, too controversial, too un-PC. Which brings me to ...

Where have all the horses gone? This continent is an absolute heaven for the horse. Left to their own devices, the horse thrives in the wilds of North America. Yet every one of the horses used by the Native Americans, when White Europeans finally crossed into the Great Plains, were descended from horse lost, or turned loose, by the Spaniards. Not one Indian horse was a native animal. But archaeology shows us that the horse is, in fact, originally native to the continent. And why not? As I said ealrier, they thrive here. So what happened to the native American horse?

The horse is actually believed to have arisen in the Americas, not Europe, Africa, Asia, or anywhere else. It showed up here, spread to the Asian continent via the Bering Land Bridge, then died out here. Why? Why, when the horse thrives in the Americas, since its reintroduction by the Spaniards, did it disappear thousands of years ago?

Were they hunted to extinction? That hardly seems possible. We are told time and time again that the Native Americans are at one with nature. So surely they could not have destroyed the horse. Climatic disaster? Perhaps. But then we have to admit the possibility that climate change is a natural happenstance. There was no industry belching pollutants into the sky back then. *snarky comment alert!* And we know that the smoke of Indian fires was environmentally safe! Actually there were never enough Indians around to have enough fires burning to do anything. *end snarky!* A continent-wide disease epidemic may have done the trick. But that's doubtful. And no evidence exists to point to an epidemic.

No, the only evidence we have consists of the over-hunting of Native Americans, or some global catastrophe that science refuses to allow. You may have seen the documentaries on the Mega-Flood of the American Northwest. PBS says: "About 15,000 years ago, in the waning millennia of the Ice Age, a vast lake known as Glacial Lake Missoula suddenly burst through the ice dam that plugged it at one end. In the space of just 48 hours, geologists believe, the collapse sent 500 cubic miles of water cascading across the Pacific Northwest, creating overnight such unusual landscapes as the scablands of eastern Washington (see Explore the Scablands.)" As early as 1927 the theory of the mega-flood was raised. It was quickly ridiculed by the experts of the time. Everybody knew that gigantic catastrophes did not occur.

But they did and do and will. And scientists have to get their heads out of their academic rear-ends and explore the facts. They cannot simply regurgitate what they have been taught, like good little lemmings, and sit smugly in their Ivory Towers. What happened to the American horse? We cannot be sure. But the PC efforts to block inquiry, that may remove some of the gloss from the Myth of the AMerican Indian, cannot continue.

The same holds for ancient skeletons, too. One of the complaints from Native Americans is that whites only do it to the remains of other peoples. "How would you like it if I dug up the body of your Aunt Mable, and displayed her in a museum," they like to say. Well, we do dig up the remains of white folks. The victims of the Deerfield Massacre were dug up, photographed and studied. They were all white Europeans. They were killed during "Queen Anne's War", on February 29, 1704. The bodies of the unfortunate inhabitants of Jamestown, Virginia, were disinterred and studied. They were whites, too. Celtic graves around the world are dug up, studied, displayed for the betterment of science and knowledge. Again, these are whites. Caucasians. So what is special about the Native American? Their beliefs? Fine. But whites bury their dead, too.

There is a vast difference between showing respect for the dead, and deifying them for the sake of their supposed descendants. Facts are facts. Emotions are emotions. The two are not a good mix. Not in religion, not in politics, and certainly not in science. If there were white peopl in the Americas ten millenia or more ago, then that is something that we should learn about and study. It is not something to be buried to protect the tender feelings of Native Americans. As long as respect is shown - demanded! - then study what ye may.

Where have all the horses gone?

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More on Kennewick Man, and the controversy, is here: Kennewick Man
or Dead "Indians" Don't Lie
. Very good opinion piece.

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Among those blogging about the controversial - ooOOOooh! - floats in a German festival is Angel! Check it out!

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Jack Steiner said...

Love the photo at the top of the blog.

benning said...

I wish it was a tad clearer, but it struck me as a good choice for the Irish celebrations a'comin'!

Joubert said...

Brilliant post and a fascinating subject. I am linking to it.

benning said...

Thanks, Patrick!

a.k.a. Blandly Urbane said...

Where do you find the time? Everything has been decided, so don't mess with it. Odd that those that claim the mantlehood of science can be just as stubborn and ignorant as the rest of us.

The only reason people wouldn't be excited about truth is because, as you say PC, emotions etc.. Personally, I just want to know. To be able to make these discoveries and dig further for the truth should be the ultimate. I "Ken" is Native American, so be it; but if he isn't shouldn't that make everyone's eyes wide with curiosity rather than it being considered against the grain? Yep - GREAT POST!!!

Extrememely interesting with regard to horses as well. I had never heard that - so it mustn't be true, right?

benning said...

Heheheee! Since I went through my own "Prehistoric Phase" many years ago, I did know that the Americas had horses before the Spanish lost theirs here. I didn't know that the horse originated in the Americas. That was a new discovery for me!

BB-Idaho said...

Interesting summary of an interesting subject! I worked with
a Nez Perce indian for over 25 years, and grew familiar with his views (which vary culturally from
us guys). He was very much concerned with the religious aspects of Kennewick Man, as his
core beliefs, more cultural than
'religious' were akin to animism
and the awe of ancestors that go
along with it. There continue to be arguments, even in the archeological community, regarding
'race' in this instance. Until or
if DNA is available from this speciman, any complete and reliable charactorization will be argued about. I would add that your summary was most informative and well-researched and a joy to read.

benning said...

Thanks, BB. I tried not to rant too much. ;)