Alias|Wavefront software enables National Geographic Magazine and The Smithsonian to give a face to 9500 year old Kennewick Man.

When did the first Americans arrive on the continent? How did they get here? Who were they? These are some of the questions archaeologists have debated for decades. The Peopling of the Americas: a feature story which ran in the December 2000 edition of National Geographic Magazine shows that while the experts have carbon-dated, excavated, researched and compared their way to many theories, there remain a number of unresolved issues.

The question of "who" the original Americans were is one of the most contentious, politically sensitive topics for anthropologists. "There is often a good deal of confusion between "Caucasoid" (biology) and "Caucasian" (race)," says National Geographic Magazine researcher, Darcy Bellido de Luna. "We felt it would add greatly to our story if we could illustrate the morphological characteristics of Caucasoid and Mongoloid skulls. This would help our readers understand the significance of finds like the Kennewick Man and allow them to form their own opinions regarding the ancestry of Native Americans."

With this goal in mind Bellido de Luna approached physical anthropologist Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Owsley is a leader in his field who for years has been collecting data on the correlation of head measurements to people of certain regions and ethnic groups. Owsley has been involved in numerous studies of early American archaeological findings, one of the more famous being the aforementioned Kennewick Man discovery in Washington State.

It was Washington-based archaeologist Jim Chatters who first acquainted Owsley with the Kennewick project. As the local expert, Chatters had been called in by the regional coroner's office to help with the recovery of Kennewick Man. Over the course of the project, however Kennewick would become the center of controversy leading to a legal battle between a group of scientists, the American government and five tribes of Native Americans. While the government has traditionally turned over skeletal finds to Native tribes for interrement the scientists are hoping to set a new precedence whereby these finds can be studied, and their origin more accurately pinpointed. Kennewick remains to this day, at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington State awaiting a ruling. In the meantime, Chatters, Owsley and other scientists wishing to study him have contented themselves with an acrylic cast of his skull that Chatters made early on in the project.

While Bellido de Luna was interviewing Owsley the topic of forensic reconstruction came up-what if, for the purpose of this story, they were to attempt a facial reconstruction based on the cast of the Kennewick skull. This type of forensic reconstruction is done routinely by medical/forensic sculptors for the purpose of identifying crime victims. It was agreed that this would add an interesting element to the story and so, renowned medical illustrator/sculptor Keith Kasnot was broached on the subject. Kasnot, who has worked with National Geographic Magazine before was immediately interested in this unique and challenging project. He met with Owsley, and the National Geographic project team in November 1999 to discuss the possibility of giving Kennewick Man a face.

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