Crosscut: Kennewick Man returns from dead 9200 years later

"If Kennewick man had stayed hidden for just one more month, most of the tough, widely-roaming hunter from the West Coast might have never been found.

A few weeks before the Tri-Cities' July 1996 hydroplane races, high flows in the Columbia River likely eroded the shoreline beneath Kennwick Man's shoreline grave, causing his skeleton to drop into the river. A few weeks later, the river swelled again — enough to scatter Kennewick Man's bones along the Columbia's bottom.

But West Richland college students Will Thomas, then 21, and Dave Deacy, then 19, hit a month-long sweet spot in the skeleton's 9,200-year journey through time when the pals decided to hang out with some brews between races in a clump of woods a few hundred feet upstream from the hydro course. They waded into the water, and Thomas stubbed his toe about 10 feet offshore. "Hey, we have a human head," Thomas joked. He thrust his hand about 1 1/2 feet underwater and grabbed what felt like a big rock.

It was a skull that stared back at him.

At the moment, the pair was more interested in ladies. They stashed the skull in a tiny wooded column, figuring it wouldn't go anywhere. After the next race, they got the skull, found a cop, and put the cranium in a beat-up old white bucket. Everyone figured it was a drowning or murder victim. A later search turned up the rest of the skeleton.

A month later, local anthropologist James Chatters determined the skeleton to be 9,200 years old.'

Get the Story:
For Kennewick Man, a return from the dead (Crosscut 10/11)

Also Today:
New Discoveries About Kennewick Man Origins (KNDO-TV 10/11)

Related Stories:
Anthropologist says Kennewick Man was not Native American (10/10)

Join the Conversation