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Kennewick Man and the Evolutionary Origins of the Nation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2014


This article addresses the recent attempts to integrate evolutionary history in the US national narrative. Focussing on the cultural, legal, and scientific controversy over Kennewick Man, the ancient human remains discovered in Washington state in 1996, the article explores the narrative politics of American national belonging. Through a popular historical novel on Kennewick Man's life, the article further theorizes nostalgia as a narrative tool in imagining the evolutionary origins of the nation. The article argues that nostalgia produces a temporal dynamic that bridges the gap between national history and global prehistory, and that this dynamic is reinforced through cultural ideas of genetic knowledge. At the same time, prehistoric nostalgia renders problematic ideas of ethnic difference largely invisible.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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This research was funded by the Kone Foundation and the Academy of Finland. An early version of the paper was presented at the Memory, Mediation, Remediation conference at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, in April 2011. The author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for the journal for insightful and helpful comments.


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17 The DOI scientists' reports and Babbitt's decision are available on the National Park Service website at

18 “Kennewick Man Ruling Benefits All,” editorial, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 16 Sept. 2002,, accessed 5 April 2011.

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21 Ann M. Kakaliouras, “Kennewick Man: A Virtual Political Object ‘Under Construction’,” in Burke et al., 88–93.

22 James D. Nason provides a critique of this assumption in the context of the trial in “Owning Indians: NAGPRA Redux,” in Burke et al., 103–27.

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24 Armand Minthorn, “Human Remains Should Be Reburied,” in Burke et al., 42–3, 42.

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