The Kennewick Man

31 Aug

In 1996, two college students found in the shallows of the Columbia River what turned out to be a human skeleton. According to Douglas Preston in the latest Smithsonian,

Thus began the saga of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas and an object of deep fascination from the moment it was discovered. It is among the most contested set of remains on the continents as well. Now, though, after two decades, the dappled, pale brown bones are at last about to come into sharp focus, thanks to a long-awaited, monumental scientific publication next month co-edited by the physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley, of the Smithsonian Institution. No fewer than 48 authors and another 17 researchers, photographers and editors contributed to the 680-page Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Texas A&M University Press), the most complete analysis of a Paleo-American skeleton ever done.

I suspect controversy will not end with this announced Smithsonian publication. (Note: Smithsonian is the publication in which this article appears, and lead anthropologist Owsley works for the Smithsonian.) Owsley and the other contributors conclude that the 9000-year-old skeleton is of a non-American Indian most akin to the Ainu people of Japan. They speculate that the Kennewick Man and his people got to the Americas by coastal migration, before the people we know as Native Americans arrived.

However, before arriving at these conclusions, Owsley and the other contributors to the book had to win in court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who claimed custodianship of the remains since it was found on their land and since it was deemed likely that the remains were Native American, and therefore came under the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Further, Columbia River Basin Indian tribes are still convinced, despite the court decisions, that the skeleton is of one of their ancestors, and thus morally should be turned over to a tribe who will reinter the skeleton. Finally, the scientists’ conclusions were not based on DNA evidence from the skeleton. The skeleton, in other words, has been at the center of a science versus Native American traditions and sovereignty conflict, and that conflict is not likely to go away anytime soon.

For Preston’s entire article, see The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets | History | Smithsonian.

The West and the Commons

30 Aug

Originally posted on Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies:

The West today is high-tech, young, more optimistic than other regions. And what gives joy, solace, relief and a thrill to the lives of so many Westerners is the one thing they all have in common: public land at their doorstep. There is no other place on earth like it. That is, fast-growing new cities surrounded by a natural world little changed since the founding of the republic.

So argues Timothy Egan in a New York Times op-ed. You can read the full piece here: New West Renaissance – NYTimes.com.

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Cowboy reading to horse

30 Aug

Whether or not the photographer was doing some horsing around for this shot, it captures an intriguing moment. What was the cowboy thinking and saying? What did the horse have in mind?

From the Buffalo Bill Center of the West: Treasures: Charles Belden photograph, cowboy reading to horse.

For Labor Day: Studs Terkel and Songs of the Working Man and Woman

28 Aug

News photo of Studs Terkel, 1979.

Studs Terkel, the Chicago oral historian, customarily broadcast a special Labor Day program in his time as a radio host. The Library of Congress offers here a link to his 1974 Labor Day program: Songs of the Working Man and Woman | Now See Hear!.

One Woman’s Research and a Medal of Honor for a Civil War Hero 150 Years in the Grave

28 Aug

WASHINGTON — He went off to fight, telling a cousin that “I may never return” but “I will gain a name in this war.” First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing proved right on both counts. He did not return, and now, after an epic delay notable even in a town famed for taking its time, his name will at long last be honored at the White House.

Lt. Cushing’s case, notes Peter Baker in the New York Times, was sustained largely through the persistence of one woman:

Margaret Zerwekh, the granddaughter of a Union veteran whose house sits on land once owned by Lieutenant Cushing’s father in Delafield, Wis. A history buff who named her pet goose Pepin, after Charlemagne’s son, Ms. Zerwekh became intrigued by the story of Lieutenant Cushing, who died childless.

Although he is honored by a plaque at Gettysburg, she decided to wage a one-woman campaign for the nation’s highest recogniti0n. “Mon loves to do research,” said Sally Weber, Ms. Zerwekh’s daughter.

You can find the entire story here: Medal of Honor for a Civil War Hero 150 Years in the Grave – NYTimes.com.

Book Burning and a New Library

25 Aug

On Aug. 24, 1814, the British occupied Washington, D.C., and burned the Capitol building. Inside, the congressional library went up in flames.

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the destruction of the Library of Congress (LC) by British armed forces during the War of 1812.

[U.S. Capitol after burning by the British]

An 1814 drawing shows the U.S. Capitol after its burning by the British. Print | George Munger, Prints and Photographs Division

As recounted by Guy Lamolinara of the Center for the Book, this seems to be one time when burning books led to something better–a new and larger LC. (Don’t try this, at home or anywhere else–book burning, that is.)

Here’s Lamolinara’s post: Out of the Ashes | Library of Congress Blog.

Lenape Man Changing Indiana’s Views on Native History

21 Aug

Lenape Michael Pace is “living history” at Connor Prairie in Indiana–a state named for Indians, but not all that attentive to making room for their voices to be heard.

At Indian Country Today, you can learn more about Pace and the Lenape through Alyse Landry’s post: Getting it Right: Lenape Man Changing Indiana’s Views on Native History – ICTMN.com.

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