July 28, 1996: Kennewick man is discovered

On the evening of July 28, 1996, archaeologist James Chatters received an unexpected call at his home in Richland, Wash., from the local coroner. Two spectators at the local hydroplane races had found a skull in Columbia Park on the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash. The coroner wanted Chatters, a paleontologist and forensic anthropologist affiliated with Central Washington University who often consulted for Benton County, to look at the skull and determine if it belonged to a recent murder victim. When the coroner arrived with the skull in a 5-gallon bucket, Chatters had scant notion that the discovery would end up challenging the reigning theory of the origins of the first Americans and would embroil scientists in a protracted, precedent-setting legal battle against the federal government.

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Sara E. Pratt

Sara E. Pratt

Pratt, EARTH's senior editor, is based in Boulder, Colo. She is a graduate of the earth and environmental science journalism dual master’s program at Columbia University and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and has written for Discover, Oceanus, Geotimes, NOVA and NOVA ScienceNow, and worked in scientific publishing and educational outreach. Email: sepratt@earthmagazine.org. Twitter: @GeoScienceSara.

Saturday, July 27, 2013 - 20:00