Kennewick Man is whispering across 9,000 years

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The story his bones tell has no clear beginning yet. But the end is coming into sharp focus, say scientists who have been studying the controversial skeleton for the past six months.

It's now clear the man Native Americans call the Ancient One was deliberately buried — not just covered over with sediment, said Doug Owsley, leader of the team that first examined the skeleton last summer and returned for another round of study this month.

Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, presented the researchers' first conclusions Thursday night in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

"This skeleton is so amazing," Owsley said in an interview. "And this level of analysis has never been done before."

Painstaking examination of the bones shows the body was placed in a shallow grave about 400 yards from where scientists believe the Columbia River was at the time. Kennewick Man was laid parallel to the river, on his back. His legs were extended, arms at his sides. His palms rested on the earth.

That picture contradicts some earlier studies that suggested he was in a fetal position, with knees drawn up to his chest.

The scientists say the evidence also hints that Kennewick Man was probably in his 30s when he died. Previous estimates had said he might have been as old as 45.

And a spear point embedded in his right hip had healed over cleanly. So it likely did not cause a chronic infection, as some experts had suspected initially, Owsley said.

The skeleton was discovered in 1996 in the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities town of Kennewick. Carbon dating has shown that the bones are about 9,200 years old.

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