Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity

By David Hurst Thomas | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE: A HISTORY WRITTEN IN BONE

I like the way a man, from 9,000 years ago could screw up Jim Chatters' life. He makes a scientific pronouncement like he's done thousands of times before and, in this case, he's opened up a hornet's nest.

-- John Hannah ( 1998), writer for Peoplemagazine

IN LATE JULY 1996, the coroner of Benton County, Washington, showed James Chatters a skull that had washed out from a Columbia River cutbank in the town of Kennewick. Chatters runs an archaeological consulting firm that, among things, helps the local coroners office identify the human skeletons and assorted body parts that occasionally turn up. "Bones are my thing," says Chatters. "I just love puzzles."

Chatters has been doing archaeology in the area for three decades, and he's seen plenty of skulls like this one--long with narrow cheekbones and a protruding upper jaw--a typical middle-aged Caucasoid male, he thought. He accompanied the coroner to where the skull had been found by a couple of college students watching a hydroplane race. Sure enough, more bones were lying about the riverbank, and Chatters collected them all.

Laying out the nearly complete skeleton on a lab table, he took a series of measurements on the skull and long bones, then framed his preliminary

-xvii-

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