Have you ever wondered who the first people were that came to America and how they got here? In contrast, how would you feel if someone dug up your grandmother and grandfather, studied their bones, and kept them in a museum? Mysterious Bones: The Story of Kennewick Man by Katherine Kirkpatrick and illustrated by Emma Stevenson shows that there aren’t any easy answers to the difficult questions raised by the discovery of an ancient skeleton. This book has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.
When Kennewick Man was chanced upon in Kennewick, Washington on July 28, 1996, the skeleton gained attention because it was nearly intact, because it was old (about 9500 years old), and because it seemed to have features more like modern caucasians. It seemed to fly in the face of the widely-held theory that the first Americans came over a land bridge from Asia. At the same time, Native American groups decided that any old skeletons in the region belonged to their ancestors and should be reburied according to their beliefs. The resulting controversy led to years of court battles.
Katherine Kirkpatrick did mounds of research and re-wrote the entire manuscript several times before settling on the published version. You can read about how the book came about on her website. As she explains, the story shifted from the find itself to the debates that surround how the remains of a real person should be treated. She learned that Native Americans deem photographs of the dead offensive and no photographs are used in the book. Emma Stevenson’s created realistic watercolor (gouache) illustrations of the skeleton, as well as the reconstructions of what Kennewick man might have looked like, and what tools he might have used.
Even though the book raises more questions than it answers, students interested in American history and anthropology will find Mysterious Bones an in depth look at many of the current ideas and methods used to study human remains, as well as an overview of our recent theories about how and when the first Americans arrived.
Questions and activities for the classroom
Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Hardcover: 60 pages
Publisher: Holiday House (May 1, 2011)