Submitted by Erico Tavares of Sinclair & Co.
The Hard Life of the First American
A forthcoming book titled “Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton” provides a very detailed account of what might have been the life of this remarkable American ancestor, who roamed Washington State 9,000 years ago. His skeleton was found by chance almost two decades ago, enabling scientists to glimpse into an era which is all but forgotten.
While genetic testing is still ongoing, the thin shape of his skull suggests that he is from Polynesian descent, not Native American as was previously thought. Some two thousand after the end of the last Ice Age humans were already crisscrossing the planet.
At 5ft 7 inches and 163 lbs (74 kg) the "First American" was very sturdy, going after big game animals such as deer, antelopes and sheep. However, he survived primarily on fish and marine mammals, drinking glacial melt-water. He was likely right handed.
But this man had a very hard life. He died at 40 for unknown reasons, after sustaining some major injuries during his lifetime, including major blows to the head, as well as broken ribs as a result of an impact trauma that never healed properly. His shoulder was damaged from the constant stress of throwing spears. And most incredibly, a spear lodged deep into his pelvis was also found, which must have been very painful to live with for several years.
His man-made injuries raise some interesting questions. While they may have resulted from an accident, like a spear gone astray during a hunting expedition, squaring off with patterns from other ancient tribes suggests that serious conflicts among humans must have been a regular fact of life back then. Our ancestors from that era lived in a world which was far less than idyllic.
And this legacy continued throughout the centuries. Native Americans appear to have been in a constant state of warfare, with many tribes becoming extinct well before the arrival of Columbus. Not only did these tribes have to compete for food but also genes, where problems associated with inbreeding likely led to the common practice of raiding one another for women and slaves. The arrival of the Europeans did not make things any better, and not before long they were also fighting among each other.
It took us 9,000 years – the equivalent of 225 Kennewick Man lives – to get to where we are today. Thankfully things are much better now. Cooperation, education, innovation and exploring new frontiers have proven to be incredibly more productive endeavors to our survival and quality of life than warfare and conflict.
And yet, as a species it appears we still have a lot to do here. If he were alive today, the First American might have agreed.