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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mysterious Bones: The Story of the Kennewick Man. Written by Katherine Kirkpatrick and illustrated by Emma Stevenson. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $21.95 ages 12 and up

"Forensic art blends art with known facts. Forensic drawings or sculptures are usually made for purposes of identification. One form of forensic art, in which a sculpture of a face is re-created using the measurements of the skull, is called "facial reconstruction."
This is a most interesting introduction for middle graders and high school students to the Kennewick Man, whose skull was discovered on the banks of the Columbia River in 1996. The men who made that discovery had no way of knowing its impact on science and history. 

If you watch the television series Bones you will be cognizant of the concept of forensic science and facial reconstruction. This skeleton was found to be in quite remarkable condition and caused a dramatic furor. Thus, Katherine Kirkpatrick begins with that. The issue at hand was respect for the cultural and ancestral traditions of the person whose bones were found on that riverbank.

It took nine years in the judicial system before a judge made his decision. He agreed that the bones could be tested; the determination was made that the skeleton was not a descendant of any known modern culture. Further scientific determinations could then be made. Now, the skeleton could tell its own story. Slowly and methodically his secrets were laid bare to the world at large.

Some of the discoveries made concerned his diet, what had caused body trauma to his hip and forehead, how he lived and what his environment was like. All were questions of real interest to the scientific community, and to the history of the region.

Without the advantage of talking directly to him, there were many questions that simply could not be answered. But, so much was also made clear. The author's careful research and her ability to tell this story of a man who lived 9,500 years ago is thoughtful and detailed:

"In the basement of his house in nearby Richland, Chatters carefully spread out the bones on his laboratory table. There were more than three hundred bones in all. He placed the skull at one end of the table and then arranged the other bones., many still covered with dirt, according to their place in a human body. Studying bones was like doing a puzzle, and Chatters loved a good puzzle."

I found myself intrigued with the many excellent illustrations that Emma Stevenson created using gouache on watercolor paper. There are tools, maps, and an especially detailed page of what the Kennewick Man might possibly have looked like. The author includes many colored boxes that add further information to her written text. She ends with an extensive glossary, a timeline that spans the years from 1990 to the present concerning ancestral claims to human remains, a bibliography, source notes and an index.  There is a lot here to read and understand. In the end, it is informational text of high caliber and will please a captivated audience.

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