Living & Entertainment

Someone tried to kill Kennewick Man, PBS show dramatizes

In the ongoing debate over the origins of Kennewick Man, one aspect of the discovery often takes a backseat: The ancient man was apparently the victim of attempted murder.

On Wednesday, the PBS miniseries “First Peoples” takes a look at the 8,500-year-old year old man found on the banks of the Columbia River in 1996.

At one point in his life, Kennewick Man had been wounded by a spear and had five of his ribs broken, consistent with a prehistoric beat-down. But the tough guy lived another 20 years.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Doug Owsley explains how in the first of the five-part series that covers a wide variety of ancient humans and how our species came to dominate the world.

“His right hip bone has an embedded spear point,” Owsley tells the camera. “Whoever the assailant was could have been close enough to him to actually give him a good stomp and then break these ribs.”

One could argue that Kennewick Man was the victim of a hunting accident — no doubt they occurred in the ancient world as well — but the ribs were broken at the same time as the spear injury, Owsley said.

The PBS show uses actors to bring Kennewick Man to life again. He is shown hunting and getting attacked.

The skeleton has been the center of a storm of controversy with scientists arguing the incalculable worth of keeping it for study and tribes claiming he is their ancestor. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation want the remains given to them so that they can be reburied.

Last week, the results of a new DNA study on Kennewick Man showed he was closely related to today’s Native Americans, specifically members of the Confederated Tribes.

One thing is clear: Ancient Washington was a dangerous place for both man and beast.

Another of Washington state’s major archeological finds also showed signs of an attack from a projectile. In 1977, the 13,800-year-old remains of a mastodon were found near Sequim with the tip of a spear embedded in them.

The future of Kennewick Man, whose remains rest at Seattle’s Burke Museum, continues to be uncertain. In the meantime, you can learn about the tough survivor, whoever he was, from the PBS show Wednesday.