Books : reviews

David Hurst Thomas.
Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, archaeology, and the battle for Native American identity.
Basic Books. 2000

When a 9,000-ycar-old human skeleton washed out of a Columbia River cutbank in July 1996, it ignited a controversy that has not stopped burning. Archaeologists proclaimed the skeleton, named “Kennewick Man,” one of the most important finds of the century and proceeded to plan extensive scientific analysis. Many Native Americans, meanwhile, with equal fervor declared such studies a desecration and demanded the skeleton for reburial. An acrimonious and highly public argument ensued, complete with lawsuit.

In Skull Wars, renowned archaeologist David Hurst Thomas traces the five-hundred-year roots of the Kennewick Man controversy. From Thomas Jefferson’s invention of scientific archaeology to the brutal massacres in which skulls of Indian warriors were sent east to build museum collections; from the strange fates of Ishi and Qisuk to the astonishing power of oral tradition in preserving centuries-old memories, this book tells what really went on between archaeologists and Indians—and shows how the two groups can work together in the future.