Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review - Their Skeletons Speak


Their Skeletons Speak: Kennewick Man and the Paleoamerican World

By: Sally M. Walker
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: August 2012
ISBN: 978-0761374572
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 2103

Columbia River’s McNary Dam would not flow freely on July 28, 1996. The Tri-City Water Follies spelled excitement as thousands gathered along its banks for the Columbia Cup Race, including Will Thomas and Dave Deacy. They were searching for a good spot along the banks of the river, but unexpectedly found something that would ultimately change our view of history as we know it. The skull Thomas pulled from the sand was not one of a murder victim, nor one of someone who had died a century ago, it was a Paleoamerican. It is now known to the scientific community as the Kennewick Man, a man who predated our civilization by thousands of years.

It wasn’t long before James Chatters, “local paleontologist and archaeologist,” arrived on the site to examine the skull and later return to search for other bones. The skull was quite distinctive and did not look like that of an ancient Native American nor that of any European settler. Searching through the mud and muck barefooted, Chatters recovered an amazing number of bones. It was critical to find the femur as “potentially a femur can offer a great deal of information to whom it belonged, including height, weight, and whether the person was active or not.” Once recovery was complete, intense scrutiny of the remains began.

Chatters quickly ascertained that there were calcium carbonate concentrations on the bone, but he soon spotted something most unusual embedded in the ilium. He knew immediately that this “object was a stone spearpoint,” something that could conceivably tell him many things about the Kennewick Man, including how old he was and possibly where he came from. The spearpoint closely resembled a Cascade point, one prehistoric hunters used “five thousand to nine thousand years ago.” The mystery of the Kennewick Man would only deepen with time the more the facets of bones were examined. Just how much would they tell scientists and how could they speak to them?

Other Paleoamericans had surfaced and through them we have learned about the history of a civilization long gone. There was the mummy in Spirit Cave, the Spirit Cave Man. Instrumentation such as an accelerator mass spectrometer would later be used to date such remains. There was the Arlington Springs Woman who lived between “12,950 and 12,698 years ago.” Captain Thurston Shawn’s ship, “Cinmar,” was fishing for scallops when they reeled in “a massive skull, complete with tusks and teeth.” It was a mastodon. And then there was the Arch Lake Woman. You’ll read about the circumstances behind these types of Paleoamerican discoveries and just what their skeletons tell us and more!

This is an exciting and extremely fascinating examination of the Kennewick man and other Paleoamerican discoveries. This is the type of book that will not only appeal to a younger audience, but also an older one. The thrill of discovery emanating from the pages is almost palpable. There are numerous full-color photographs, drawings, and comparative charts that allow the reader to almost participate and draw their own conclusions or hypothesis about the discoveries. For example, when discussing the unusual crest of the Horn Shelter Man’s forearms, we see the bones with the crests delineated by red squares. Was he a drummer, a toolmaker, or a shaman? The book focuses on the Kennewick man, but several other mysteries are covered, an aspect that makes the book even more interesting. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a listing of study teams, a map of Paleoamerican discoveries, source notes, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.

Quill says: This is a stunning overview of the Kennewick Man and other Paleoamerican discoveries that is definitely one that you should add to your wish list!