An anthropologist made a clay model of the head of a 9,200-year-old man, only to discover it bears a strong resemblance to someone with links to the distant future.
Anthropologist Jim Chatters and sculptor Tom McClelland produced a clay model of what the so-called Kennewick Man likely looked like when he roamed the Columbia River basin more than 90 centuries ago.
He has a narrow chin, prominent cheekbones, a long face, a prominent nose, a size 15 neck and a forehead that slopes to its apex far to the back of his head.
Without a wig, it resembles Patrick Stewart, the actor who played Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in television’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Chatters said.
The sculpture looks somewhat like the bust of a Roman dictator, but “you could lose him in the streets of most major cities,” Chatters said.
“He’s really kind of an Everyman,” McClelland said.
Kennewick Man’s bones were found in July 1996 in a park along the Columbia River in south-central Washington.
Chatters is one of only a few people to have examined the bones before they were locked away in a dispute between scientists and American Indians.
Eight scientists are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the right to study the bones, which they believe could reveal much about how people first came to North America. Early study of the bones found indications they had Caucasian features.
Representatives of mid-Columbia Indian tribes contend the bones were uncovered at an ancient burial ground and should be returned under a 1990 federal graves protection law.
Chatters said he thought about reconstructing the skull’s features ever since the bones were found.
“We’re translating the language the bones have to a language that anyone can understand,” Chatters said of the three-dimensional creation.
McClelland, a freelance sculptor and art teacher at Columbia Basin College, said the work helps bring Kennewick Man beyond the politics surrounding his discovery in the river mud.
“We’re creating a tangible object that represents the humanity of the individual,” he said. “It’s a merging of science and art.”
The sculptors said the sculpturing involves some interpretation-- especially in the later stages of creating lines in the skin and forming the lips and eyes.
“We’re not trying to make him look like anybody in particular,” McClelland said. “What we wanted to see was what the bones were trying to tell us.”
The reconstruction doesn’t resemble modern Northwest Indians, but has some characteristics of Eastern tribes such as the Iroquois, McClelland said.
Chatters and McClelland used a mold of Kennewick Man’s skeleton that Chatters took before the bones were placed in a vault under court order. To gauge the tissue depth on Kennewick Man’s face, they used the average depth found on Asian and American males at 21 spots around the face.
By using that average, they tried to reduce a bias toward European features, Chatters said.
“Most people just use the European [measurements], but I didn’t think that was appropriate in this case because of the issues that have been brought up,” he said.
There are no plans to display the sculpture.
The sculpture looks like a man about 30 years old, and the sculptors plan to age it another 15 or 20 years to make it look as he might have at death.
“There is still quite a bit of aging to be done,” McClelland said. “Because he lived primarily outdoors, there would have been a lot of weathering, a lot of creasing, a lot of aging.”