Kennewick Man’s bones reveal his diet

Ancient resident of the Pacific Northwest ate from a seafood menu

Kennewick Man Skeleton

MARINE MAN  New chemical analyses of Kennewick Man’s left shin bone (the larger bone in his lower left leg) indicate that this ancient resident of the Pacific Northwest almost exclusively ate seafood.


Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution

ST. LOUIS — Kennewick Man almost exclusively ate seafood despite having access to abundant land animals, a new study finds.

This ancient North American’s 9,000-year-old skeleton was found in Washington state in 1996.

Proportions of certain forms of carbon and nitrogen in Kennewick Man’s bones denote a diet dominated by seafood, geochemist Henry Schwarcz of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, reported March 28 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

Kennewick Man may have belonged to a poorly understood Pacific Northwest coast population that continued to shun land prey for thousands of years after his demise, Schwarz said. A team led by Schwarcz concluded in 2014 that the bones of people who lived along the British Columbia coast over much of the last 6,000 years displayed chemical signatures of diets heavy on salmon and other fish, mollusks and marine mammals such as seals.

Schwarcz suspects Kennewick Man’s diet was much the same. It’s unclear from the new bone analysis what, if any, plants Kennewick Man ate.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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