Their Skeletons Speak

Their Skeletons Speak: 
Kennewick Man and the Paleoamerican World

About the Book

On July 28, 1996, two young men stum­bled upon human bones in the shal­low water along the shore of the Colum­bia Riv­er near Ken­newick, Wash­ing­ton. Was this an unsolved mur­der? The rem­nants of some set­tler’s or Native Amer­i­can’s unmarked grave? What was the sto­ry behind this skeleton?

With­in weeks, sci­en­tif­ic test­ing yield­ed aston­ish­ing news: the bones were more than 9,000 years old! The skele­ton instant­ly esca­lat­ed from inter­est­ing to extra­or­di­nary. He was an indi­vid­ual who could pro­vide first­hand evi­dence about the arrival of humans in North Amer­i­ca. The bones found scat­tered in the mud acquired a name: Ken­newick Man.

Dou­glas W. Owsley and I take you through the painstak­ing process of how sci­en­tists deter­mined who Ken­newick Man was and what his life was like. New research, nev­er-before-seen pho­tos of Ken­newick Man’s remains, and a life­like facial recon­struc­tion will intro­duce you to one of North Amer­i­ca’s ear­li­est residents.

But the sto­ry does­n’t end there. We’ll also intro­duce you to a hand­ful of oth­er Pale­oamer­i­can skele­tons, explor­ing their com­mon­al­i­ties with Ken­newick Man. Togeth­er, their voic­es form a cho­rus to tell the com­plex tale of how humans came to North America—if we will only listen.

Awards and Recognition

  • Bank Street Col­lege Best Children’s Book award
  • Ben­jamin Franklin Award
  • Chica­go Pub­lic Library Best Books 2012
  • Coop­er­a­tive Children’s Book Cen­ter (CCBC) Choices
  • Inde­pen­dent Pub­lish­ers Book Award
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Stud­ies Trade Book for Young People
  • School Library Jour­nal Best Children’s Books 2012
  • YALSA Excel­lence in Non­fic­tion for Young Adults Award nom­i­nee 2013


 “This detailed study of the dis­cov­ery and foren­sic eval­u­a­tion of the skele­ton dubbed ‘Ken­newick Man’ puts foren­sic TV shows to shame. From his acci­den­tal dis­cov­ery in 1996 through mul­ti­ple exam­i­na­tions by sci­en­tists with ever-improv­ing foren­sic tools and years of unex­pect­ed stor­age due to NAGPRA (Native Amer­i­can Graves Pro­tec­tion and Repa­ra­tion), an actu­al human being emerges from a time long gone, speak­ing to us through his bones. Enter­ing briefly into this long-term inves­ti­ga­tion are the far more shad­owy fig­ures of oth­er Paleoamericans—Spirit Cave Man, Arch Lake Woman, and the Horn Shel­ter Peo­ple. Scat­tered through­out the lucid, read­able text are tight­ly focused infor­ma­tion­al bits on such top­ics as CT scans, radio­car­bon dat­ing, and NAGPRA prac­tices. Sharp col­or pho­tos, some nice art­work, and good maps pro­vide clear visu­als of the bones them­selves, and the fea­tures that helped define the man and his life. A final facial recon­struc­tion leaves read­ers face-to-face with a real person—someone read­ers would rec­og­nize if they met him on the street (we know how tall he was, how much he weighed, that one arm was stronger than the oth­er, etc.). Walk­er reminds read­ers that it was not their relics, but liv­ing, breath­ing Pale­oamer­i­cans who first arrived, set­tled, lived, and died in the long-gone Amer­i­can past … Lucid writ­ing, fine sci­en­tif­ic expla­na­tions, and attrac­tive book­mak­ing make this a win­ner.” (School Library Jour­nal, starred review)

“Ken­newick Man, a skele­ton retrieved from the Colum­bia Riv­er in 1996, is the focal point of this study, an object les­son in how sci­en­tists can deduce amaz­ing amounts of infor­ma­tion from what may seem to the untu­tored view­er to be unim­pres­sive dings, cracks, and con­cre­tions in bone or the sim­plest posi­tion of a limb in its final rest­ing place. To demon­strate how far the field of pale­oamer­i­can stud­ies has come in the past cen­tu­ry, Walk­er and Owsley back­track to dis­cuss sev­er­al oth­er notable human remains that have altered the timetable of human set­tle­ment and place of ori­gin. There’s a lot of tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion here, on top­ics such as iso­tope-based dat­ing tech­niques, tooth-shape com­par­i­son, advanced CT scans, sed­i­ment accre­tions, bone stress, wound recov­ery, and the like, but for seri­ous read­ers who delight in foren­sic inves­ti­ga­tion or per­haps con­sid­er a future in the field, this mate­r­i­al will push their under­stand­ing fur­ther than most titles on this sub­ject for youth read­er­ship. Source notes, bib­li­ogra­phies, and an index are includ­ed.” (The Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books)

Their Skeletons Speak

writ­ten by Sal­ly M. Walk­er and Dou­glas W. Owsley
Car­ol­rho­da Books, Aug 2012
hard­cov­er: 978–0761374572
136 pages, ages 11 and up

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