Hush-hush Archaeology

That is the name of an absolutely fascinating story in the San Diego CityBeat. The story is about what happens when the Dept. of Homeland Security and the border fence collide with archaeology and a people’s desire to protect their past. It is an amazing read…

Yale, Skull and Bones, and the Federal Government Sued By Geronimo’s Family: Complications

I recently wrote about a lawsuit filed against Yale, Skull and Bones, and the Federal Government by descendents of Geronimo. The situation has become a little more complicated.

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Congratulations to the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is engaging in a wonderful project to digitize its entire collection. Reuters has the story:

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Taino: An Abuse of Power

The Voice of the Taino People Online has an interesting post up concerning the discovery of a five acre site near J&#225cana, Puerto Rico:

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The Logical End Result of Repatriation Laws?

Nature has an interesting news item called Online anthropology draws protest from aboriginal group:

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Who Owns The Past: Another Possible Solution, Saving Iraq’s Cuneiform Tablets

Recently I wrote a review on Cuno’s new book Who Owns Antiquity. In that review I expressed my disappointment at the few solutions Cuno proposed. The next day, I returned to the subject with a post discussing the Virtual Vault at the Arizona State Museum. In this post I would like to point you to another possible solution – one being used to help preserve Iraqi antiquities.

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Field Museum Repatriating Maori Remains

Science Daily has an interesting article up about the Field Museum repatriating, with the assistance of Native Americans, Maori remains back to New Zealand.

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Lessons From Kennewick: Fitting it all Together

In the first post in this series I mentioned that the Kennewick skeleton had become available for scientific study. In the second post I discussed different techniques anthropologists use to study skeletal material. In the third I showed how these techniques are used in practice and tried to show how one skeleton can improve our understanding of history and of our scientific techniques. In this post I will discuss what is currently known about Kennewick and show how it impacts some of the issues discussed previously. Before continuing I would like to point you to this post for some of the archaeological background. In that post I point out some of the antecedents of North American archaeological assemblages and discuss some of the theories about how the Americas came to be populated. The one thing I left out of that post was a discussion of the people themselves.
It had long been thought that Native Americans were related to peoples somewhere in Asia (defined broadly). For example, one of the goals of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, led by Franz Boas, in the 1890’s was to trace the cultural, linguistic, archaeological and biological relationships between Asian cultures and Native Americans. Based on both skeletal and soft tissue traits it was assumed that Native Americans were related to mongoloid peoples in the old world. More specifically, it was felt that Native Americans, especially Eskimos, were related to peoples inhabiting Siberia. As anthropological methods became more sophisticated ideas changed somewhat – but not much.
E.A. Hooten, one of the more important figures in American physical anthropology, noted that the most mongoloid Native Americans were the Eskimos (coincidentally the most recent to arrive in the Americas) and the as one moved throught North America into South America populations became less mongoloid. This lead Hooten to propose that there were 2-3 separate migration events with the earliest being from non-mongoloid peoples related to populations in India, Australia and the Ainu.
J. B. Birdsell (writer of the popular – for it’s time – Human Evolution: An Introduction to the New Physical Anthropology) felt that there may have been some non-mongoloid peoples (mainly the ancestors of the Ainu)involved in the peopling of the America’s but felt that the America’s were largely settled by mongoloid peoples.
W. Howells (author of the popular Mankind in the Making)felt that Native Americans were descended from a generalized mongoloid stock from which later, more specialized mongoloids (such as the Chinese) developed. Howells felt that populations bearing the closest resemblance to Native Americans could be found in Indonesia, Central Asian and Tibet. Unlike Hooten and Birdsell, Howells felt that mongoloids only were responsible for the peopling of the Americas. This is pretty much where things stand today. The point to take away from this is that there are two competing ideas. One allows for caucasoids in the ancestry of Native Americans. The other doesn’t
The Kennewick skeletal material was found in July of 1996 Lake Wallula. It had been in a terrace, part of which claved off taking part of the skeleton with it. The remaining part of the skeleton was bleached by the sun for 1-2 months befor it to eroded out of the terrace. Elements of the skeleton were scattered, by water action, over 300 sqaure feet.

Here you can see what appears to be a tibia in situ.

Here is a view of a large part of the skeleton,

and here is a good view of the skull.


At first there was some uncertainty over whether the find represented, say, a homicide or was prehistoric. Preliminary analysis indicated the find was, indeed, an archaeological dicovery, which brought it under the purview of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Of the two NAGPRA is the more onerus. Under NAGPRA a two step process is followed. First, One has to determine whether the remains should be considered “Native American” under NAGPRA’s definition. If they are Native American the second step is to determine whether or not the remains are culturally affiliated with any modern day tribe or tribes (if so they are repatriated). Analysis of remains can be a little difficult because in most cases permanent alteration of the remains (by, say, reconstructing the skull) are not allowed. Be that as it may, in order to be in compliance with NAGPRA a number of analysis were performed upon the skeleton. First, an inventory was made of all the skeltal material. Having done that, the skelton was examined using some of the criteria mentioned in the second post. Using these methods it was determined that the skeleton was of a male between 45-50 years of age. The femurs and tibia were broken so the humerus was used to determine stature. It is estimated that the stature of the individual was between 5’8″ and 5’10”. The skeleton was also examined for pathology and post mortem damage. The skeleton showed some signs of osteoarthritis. There was localized trauma on the radius, and scapula. The right ilium had what has tentitively been identified as a cascade style projectile point embedded in the right ilium.

A Cascade point (only about three inches long).

Interestingly enough, this injury did not kill the individual, quite a bit of healing took place after the injury. As a matter of fact only the base and tip of the point could be clearly seen. Several of the ribs were broke, although there is some evidence that this represents post depositional damage. There were also some rodent tooth marks on the skeleton. In addition to the bleaching of some of the bones, mentioned above, the skeleton was covered with calcite deposits. Some of the bones also had alghae adhering to them. Some of the bones also had a reddish stain which may have been red ochre – but further analysis indicated the stains were caused by decaying organic matter (roots mainly).

To answer the question of biological affiliation (i.e. was Kennewick related to modern tribes) non-metric and metric techniques were used.

In terms of non-metric traits the Kennewick material contained a variety of features found in Caucasoids and Mongoloids. Caucasoid traits found in Kennewick include a large nasal spine, undulating horizontal ramus (part of the jaw) border, slanting ascending ramus profile, no wormian bones, no os japonicum (this is where a second suture divides the zygomatic bone into two pieces) and cranial sutures of medium complexity. Mongoloid traits include a large malar tubercle (a raised area on the zygomatics) blurred nasal sill, zygomatic posterior tubercle, slight nasal depression, moderate prognathism, elliptical dental arcade, straight palantine suture (the palantines are two bones that articulate with the palate in the top rear of the mouth)and possibly an angled zygomaticomaxillary suture (in caucasoids this suture is “s” shaped) and a forward facing frontal process of the maxilla (this is the area where the maxilla articulates with the frontal and nasal bones – in caucasoids the frontal process slopes steeply away from the nasals). This is where it gets interesting. Some additional traits include an nasal form intermediate between towered and tented , a medium nasal opening, vertical zygomatic bones, and a slightly rhomboidal orbital shape. These traits occur in Polynesian populations (I will get back to this later).

In terms of metric traits an extensive series of statistical analyses were carried out. In order to do this the skull had to be reconstructed, which led to several problems. Since the conservators of the skeleton would not allow permanent alterations the normal glues and what not used in restoring skulls could not be used. In order to take some of the measurements the bones literally had to be held in place by one person while the other measured them. This involved a lot of fitting and refitting of the bones (both cranial and post cranial). A CT scan was also made of the skull, which allowed a polymer cast to be made. Unfortunately, a comparison of the measuremnts of the cast with the skull revealed statistically significant differences in the measurements. Fifty two measurements of the skull were then taken and the measurments were compared to a wide variety of populations around the world. The results were interesting. In most of the tests ran Kennewick was most closely related to populations in southern Japan (i.e. the Ainu) and Polynesia (the Moriori and Easter Islanders) followed by archaic Native American populations such as Indian Knoll and, in some analysis, the Chukchi of Siberia.
The Kennewick skeleton has gotten a lot of press becuase of it’s caucasoid affinities and we are now in the position to see how this came about. It should be pointed out that in this context “caucasoid” does not mean European. Rather caucasoids refers to a large highly variable population that includes Polynesians, Australians and the Ainu as well as Europeans. The way I would explain it is that Kennewick arose from the same general population that gave rise to Polynesians, Australians and the Ainu. If you refer back to my discussion of “race” in part three of this series you can see how some of those ideas play out here. In particular, the Brace et al article seems relevant. Some of the traits cluster Kennewick with, say Polynesia (this would be the common descent aspect of the Brace et al article) others are referable to the effects of different selection regimes as each population went their separate ways (my own opinion – for what it’s worth – is that Kennewick seems to lend some confirmation to Hooten’s theory mentioned above).
Samples were taken from the 3rd left metacarpal for DNA analysis using PCR amplification. Midway through the study analysis was terminated under orders from the Army Corps of Engineers (the skeleton was found on COE property). In the spring of 2000 permission was granted by the Department of the Interior to proceed with the analysis. Unfortunately, investigators were unable to extract DNA suitable for PCR amplification. A sample of the 3rd left metacarpal was also submitted for radiocarbon dating. The results indicvated an age range 5750 – 9510 BP. Investigators felt that there was some intrusive young carbon in the sample yielding the younger dates. But things are a little more complicated than that. Apparently, there is a discrepancy in carbon content between bone samples taken in 1996 and 1999 – which investigators found surprising.
It could be argued that the proper thing to do with Kennewick would be to make some casts (which is not without difficulty given some of the conditions posed on previous investigators) and repatriate the remains. As pointed out in this post there are several outstanding issues that need to be resolved (A better DNA analysis being one). Certainly, research on casts has some legitimacy within anthropology. However, there are precious few skeletons dating to the time of Kennewick and before we turn it over, for what amounts to it’s destruction, we had better make sure we get the science right. But then, what of other skeletal material that is just as important. The Over Collection (mentioned in the previous post) has, largely been repatriated. It would not have been possible to make casts of each and every skeleton in the collection. It is, therefore, crucial that scientists be allowed to study this material in a manner consistant with the best scientific practices – which has not been done with Kennewick (which is not to say the previous investigators were less than professional – rather some very severe restrictions had been placed on their ability to perform the necessary studies).

Here are some interesting links to Kennewick:

NPS AEP: Kennewick Man Contains many of the studies used in this post.

Tri-City Herald’s Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center

Kennewick Man Home Page From the Burke Museum – where the Kennewick skeletal material is located.

Kennewick Update

My fourth post on Kennewick is about 1/3 finished. I’m hoping to have it completely finished tomorrow (sorry for the delay, I’ve been fighting off a cold for the last couple of days and it’s making writing – and thinking – difficult).

Lessons from Kennewick: The Value of One Skeleton

Before going any further I would recommend that you read the first and second posts in this series.

So, having learned some basic things like how to determine gender, ethnicity, age and stature you might think that nothing more can be learned. You might also think that nothing could be learned from a single skeleton. You would be wrong.

The Swan Creek site is located in South Dakota (this example comes from Skeletal Biology in the Great Plains: Migration, Warfare, Health and Subsistence edited by Douglas Owsley and Richard Jantz). It was excavated, mainly, by W. H. Over. The site dates to 1675-1725 and is Coalescent tradition village site (the Coalescent tradition has been attributed to the Arikara and Pawnee). One of the skeletons was somewhat different from the rest. It was found jumbled together with four other skeletons. The skull is labeled 2198 and that is how I will refer to it.
Skull 2198 was judged, using some of the criteria in the last post, to be a male (size, brow ridge, mastoid size, blunt eye orbits, etc) between the 40-50 years old (based on the obliteration of cranial and palatal sutures). Pathology included three healed depression fractures. To determine biological affiliation researchers first used the technique pioneered by Giles and Elliot (mentioned in the second post of this series). This is where the first problem comes in. Giles’ and Elliot’s method classifies white and black females and white males reasonably accurately. It missclasifies black males and native americans. Giles and Elliot used a sample of native americans from Indian Knoll (in Kentucky) which dated to around 1000 BC. Ever since Franz Boas’ classic study on the changes in cranial form between immigrants and their children it has been know that a wide variety of factors effect the shape of the human skull – including environment. So the difference in environment plays a role. It is also known that the accuracy of such techniques drops off when you move outside the population the technique was developed on. Different populations have differing patterns of variability. In this case, Giles and Elliot frequently classifies northern plains indian populations incorrectly. So researchers turned to the method developed by Gill. But, you guessed it, Gill’s method gives variable results for northern plains populations also – especially Arikara males. I should mention at this point that both methods classified skull 2198 as a white male. As another means of testing this researchers compared Larson (another collection of Arikara skeletal material to 300 crania from France (dating to 1500-1900 AD) and 100 Austrian crania (1700-1900 AD). They developed their own discriminant fuctions to classify the Swan Creek crania. Thsi new function classifed all Swan Creek correctly as indian – except for two. One of which was 2198 which was classified as European. You might be tempted to say “so what, you found a caucasian skull in an indian village. Big deal!” Well it is a big deal. The earliest documented evidence of European contact with the Arikara wasn’t until the 1740’s. There is some evidence of French trader activity prior to that time but this is the first tangible evidence. There is also some evidence that the Swan Creek village experienced a reduction in population which is part of an overall disease induced reduction of population that occured in the middle Missouri area. One explanation was that disease was passed along trade routes in advance of the arrival of Europeans. This find suggests disease pathogens were carried in directly by Europeans. This alone makes skull 2198 important. But there is more. If skull 2198 was European this raises the possibility of gene flow. Did he take a native american wife and have children? How can we tell? Presumably, they would be morphometrically intermediate but because of a shared environment would still classify as Arikara. Several of the crania from Swan Creek fell close to being classified as European (technically they were close to the sectioning point – the line that divides European from Arikara). Suggestive evidence that there may have been gene flow – but not conclusive. It would be nice if we could do more research on the issue, unfortunately the W.H. Over Collection (of which Swan Creek was a part) has been repatriated.

This brings us to Brace et al’s 1993 article “Clines and Clusters Versus ‘Race:’ A Test in Ancient Egypt and the Case of a Death on the Nile” published in the AJPA. Ostensibly, this is a study of the biological affinities of ancient Egyptians with other populations around the world. The specific point of the article was to address the notion that Egyptians were “black”. Along the way another mystery skull is found.
Let’s step back a minute. When discussing ethnicity in my previous post I pointed out that I had been taught to distinguish three basic catagories – Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid. As we saw with the Arikara this is very simplistic. Arikara skeletons vary from other northern plains skeletons which in turn vary with skeletal samples from other geographic areas (not to mention the issue of temporal variation). As I have mentioned a wide variety of things can affect the skeleton. Thigns like healthcare, nutrition, lifestyle (that’s an interesting story and the subject of some future post) and evironment. There is one thing that can affect the skeleton that I haven’t mentioned yet.
There have been a wide variety of traits used to divide people up into races. Four in particular will be discussed. The four traits in question are usually used to define Negroid or blacks. The first is the amount of melanin in the skin. There are numerous populations around the world with heavy concentrations of melanin in their skin. Such populations can be found in Africa, India, Australia and South America. Given the geographic separation of some of these groups one can say they are not all related (which you would expect if skin color was a diagnostic criteria of biological affinity). Basically the amount of melanin in skin is a response to solar radiation. As such, it is under control of selection and forms a cline or gradient that follows the amount of solar radiation. Another trait used to define the Negroid “race” is the elongation of dital limb segments (those parts of the limb furthest from the body). In point of fact the elongation of distal limbs is related to the dissapation of heat (think Allen’s Rule) and is also clinally distributed. Since solar radiation and heat stress are related there is also a correlation between skin color and distal limb elongation. Nasal bridge elevation and elongation is another trait used to define race. Unlike skin pigmentation and limb elongation, nasal bridge elevation is not related to heat, rather it is related to the amount of moisture in the air. Consequently, nasal bridge elevation and elongation is also under selective control and occurs in arid environments (for example in humid areas of west Africa and the Congo nasal bridge elevation is absent. It is present in areas such as the arctic were the air is cold and dry). Jaw and tooth size are also used to define “races”. Jaw size is, obviously related to tooth size – hence large teeth tend to create a certain amount of alveolar prognathism (see the previous post). Tooth size, it has been argued, is under selective control related to food processing technology. Consequently, it has a different distribution than traits related to solar radiation, heat or humidity.
So let’s see how these four traits play out in Egypt. There is a cline of skin color and distal limb elongation running from the Nile Valley south to the equator. Once we reach the East Horn of Africa (Somalia and the Arabian Peninsula) we face a different situation. Since there is a large amount of solar radiation we see the dark pigmentation and distal limb elongation. It is also very dry so, unlike in other parts of Africa, we also see nasal bridge elongation and elevation. We also see a reduction in tooth size (Brace et al argue that this is because this area was one of the centers for the domestication of plants). Brace et al found that when these traits (i.e. the ones under selective control) were left out Somalis showed a definite relationship with European populations. All this, really, proves Darwin correct when he said traits under selective control can’t be used to determine population relationships. Brace et al then examined traits that were not under any kind of selective control. They assumed that:

Traits that show associations with each other only within the context of a given region, then, inevitably have no adaptive significance. When a large number of features occur together in a given geographic area, the principle agent controlling their occurence is the sharing of genes between neighboring groups that are by definition relatives.

They then analyze skelatal samples from all over the world and construct a tree (for the statistically inclined the tree was based on Euclidian distance) of such clusters of populations. Since the traits underlying these clusters are, they argue, nonadaptive they do not easily yield labels such as “black”, “white” or “mongoloid”. I will get back to this in a bit. One of the skulls included in the analysis was skull E 597 from the 26th-30th Dynasty (dating to 664-341 BC). This skull was utterly unlike anything else in the collection – so much so that Brace almost felt that it had been included by mistake. Except for the fact that there was clear evidence that the brain had been extracted through the nasal aperture. The individual had also been embalmed with the mortuary treatment reserved for wealthy Egyptians. Discrimant function analysis of skull E 597 was more closely related to a sample of skulls from the neolithic in Germany! Leaving aside the question of how this individual came to be in Egypt, skull E 597 indicates some interesting things about Egypt. Brace et al’s analysis indicated that Egyptians in Late Dynastic times shared more traits in common with Europeans than with the inhabitants of Upper Egypt 3,000 years earlier. Which indicates the extent of contact Egypt had with populations to the north and west in particular and the rest of their known world in general. In a sense, the significance of skull E597 is that simple labels such as “Caucasoid” or “Negroid” are misleading and inaccurate.
As Brace et al point out:

Where human traits have adaptive significance, their distributions are determined by the distribution of the controlling selective forces and ‘their are no races, their are only clines.” Where traits have no adaptivie significance, neighbors will share traits with neighbors and analysis of adjacent samples will show that they cluster together. Both these situations occur in the Nile Valley….
The old-fashioned chimerical concept of “race” is hopelessly inadequate to deal with the human biological reality of Egypt…

So there we have it. New methods for learning about history were tested. Questions that we had never tried to ask before (anthropologically speaking)were raised. One skull taught us something new about American history. One skull taught us something new about Egyptian history. Both taught us something about ourselves by leading us to questions certain notions about race – which means we might be able to have a more meaningful conversation. The value of one skelton in each case made a difference in the advancement of human knowledge.

I hope to have the next (and final post) in this series up by Tuesday.