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Science vs. Culture - The Kennewick Man

The tensions between science and culture extend far beyond disputes over evolution. In some cases, science and culture disagree on not just what is true, but how actions should be taken in the real world. The story of Kennewick Man is a perfect example of this.


In 1996, while two tourists were visiting Kennewick, on the Columbia River in Washington, they stumbled across a human skull. After the police collected the skull and an almost completely intact skeleton, they determined that the bones came from a Caucasian man. But strangely, there was no murder investigation. This is because, in a very strange twist, Carbon-dating tests showed that the bones were more than 9,000 years old--much older than the earliest recorded Caucasian visits to North America in the 14th century.

Anthropologists, paleontologists, biologists and archaeologists all whipped themselves into a fury of excitement over these bones, which were soon given the name "Kennewick Man." Everyone, it seemed, wanted to study these remarkably well-preserved remains. At the same time, the local Umatilla Indians, whose ancestors have lived on the Columbia River for thousands of years, claimed the rights to rebury the remains, under the North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). To this ancient tribe, the bones are sacred remnants of their ancestors, and as such, they should be returned to the ground.

Once you have read the article, visit the PBS website about Kennewick man, focusing on the scientists' claims (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/first/claim.html) and on the processes used to reconstruct a very lifelike model of Kennewick Man (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/first/kennewick.html). Then, do some research of your own into this conflict, as well as other science-culture disputes you think are relevant


Take a side in this controversy. Who you think deserves ownership of the remains and why, what should be done with these remains, and what sacrifices will be made when your own solution is implemented. What other science vs. culture disputes does this conflict remind you of, and why?

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Solution Preview

As stated in 1954 by Unesco, "cultural property is part of the cultural heritage of all mankind" and "deserves special protection." I agree with this statement whole heartedly in that I believe any cultural property discovered and any information it brings forth should be shared with all mankind and protected for future generations. Many groups, including the Indian tribe associated with the Kennewick Man, ...

Solution Summary

The solution provides an argument that while cultural property is part of the cultural heritage of all mankind a member of the scientific community should not be expected to allow personal feelings for an important artifact get in the way of what could be an amazing discovery that could change all history books in 291 words.