Two hydroplane racing fans discover the skull of Kennewick Man on the bank of the Columbia River on July 28, 1996.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 2/28/2008
  • Essay 8503
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On July 28, 1996, two young West Richland men are wading along the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick when they step on something that looks like a big rock. When they pull it from the mud, they see that it is obviously a human skull. They turn it over to police. Scientific tests determine it is at least 9,200 years old, the remains of the man who becomes known as Kennewick Man.

Wading the Shallows

Will Thomas, 21, and Dave Deacy, 19, both of West Richland, were wading in the Columbia River's shallows at Columbia Park in Kennewick when Thomas stepped on something round in the mud. He thought it was a rock, but joked, "Hey, we have a human head" (Stang).

He reached into the water to pull it out and realized that it had teeth. It was a brown human skull. Thomas and Deacy stashed it in the bushes; they wanted to go watch the hydro races. After the races, they retrieved the skull, put it in a bucket and showed it to a Kennewick police officer.

No Recent Crime

At first, police thought they might have found evidence of a recent crime. But forensic anthropologists soon determined that the skull was old, possibly that of an early homesteader. A nearly complete skeleton was found scattered nearby, complete with a stone spear point driven into the hip.

As it turned out, the skull and skeleton were far older than anyone imagined. Scientists dated it at between 9,200 and 9,600 years old, making it the oldest nearly complete skeleton ever found in North America. Scientists dubbed it Kennewick Man, and the find kicked off a long-running scientific and cultural controversy.

Sources: John Stang, "Skull Found on Shore of Columbia," Tri-City Herald, July 29, 1996; Dave Schafer, "Skull Likely Early White Settler," Tri-City Herald, July 30, 1996; John Stang, "Tri-City Skeleton Dated at 9,000 Years Old," Tri-City Herald, August 28, 1996.

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