No Bone Unturned: The Adventures of a Top Smithsonian Forensic Scientist and the Legal Battle for America's Oldest Skeletons - Jeff Benedict (2003)


National Museum of Natural History
Washington, D.C.

“Doug, it’s Richard.”

“Hello, Richard. What did you find?”

“This person is not only dissimilar to Native Americans, he wouldn’t fit very well in any modern population.”

Jantz felt that the Spirit Cave mummy most closely resembled the Ainu, a maritime people that anciently occupied coastal Asia. Survivors of the Jomon culture, which dates back at least ten thousand years, the Ainu have survived to the present day and still occupy Hokkaido Island, in the northern part of Japan.

Jantz explained that after the Ainu, the Spirit Cave mummy shared some similar features with the Moriori—a Polynesian group—and the African Zulu, as well as the Norse, a medieval Norwegian population. The population groups that least resembled Spirit Cave mummy were the Bushmen, the Sioux, and the Pawnee.

Somebody else is here, thought Owsley, listening to Jantz. The Spirit Cave mummy’s cranial measurements were radically different from any of the thousands of Indian crania he and Jantz had studied.

“So he doesn’t necessarily look like an Indian at all,” Owsley said.

“Well, we knew he looked different. This just confirms it.”

Owsley was intrigued by the mummy’s connection to the Ainu. But it raised a question, and a loaded one at that: How did the Spirit Cave mummy get here? Owsley realized that it posed a challenge to the prevailing archaeological theory on how the Americas were populated.

Since the 1950s, most experts have believed that the first Americans arrived sometime around thirteen thousand years ago via a land bridge that linked Siberia and Alaska at the Bering Strait. The theory rested partly on archaeological discoveries at Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1930s. Stone tools and artifacts found at Clovis gave rise to what scientists dubbed “Clovis people,” believed to be big-game hunters who crossed the land bridge and migrated south along an ice-free corridor that formed after the Ice Age. But no skeletons or human remains were found at Clovis. Yet supporters of the Bering Strait theory regard Clovis people as the forefathers of modern-day American Indians.

Yet scientists had been unable to confirm the presence of a single Clovis skeleton at any of the forty additional Clovis sites uncovered by archaeologists in North America since 1930. While the tools and artifacts matched those at Clovis, New Mexico, lending strength to the existence of the Clovis culture, a profile of the Clovis people remained elusive.

Owsley and Jantz agreed that they needed to make a comprehensive inquiry into how many other skeletons from the Spirit Cave time period existed in America.

If the Spirit Cave mummy looked nothing like North America’s Indians, Owsley thought, it raised the question of whether another migration to the Americas took place.

Jantz already had doubts about the single-migration theory. He had argued that the isolation that historically has been postulated for America—they came over the land bridge, the land bridge disappeared, and thereafter they were in exquisite isolation—cannot be the case. There is too much evidence of interaction.

Owsley did not believe that a single migration was responsible for populating all of North and South America either. He suspected that there were multiple migrations to the Americas. And, despite never saying it publicly, he believed that there was probably at least one ancient population that migrated to the Americas by boat.

The Spirit Cave mummy’s apparent connection to the Ainu got him thinking more about a boat migration. The Ainu were, after all, a maritime people.

Owsley and Jantz agreed that they needed to study more of these early mummies and skeletons. Trying to build the case that the early people in America really were different peoples would require them to explain why. That would involve going beyond individual specimens. The Spirit Cave mummy was an important piece of evidence. But no scientist could ever build a case for his theory on one specimen.