The woman who crafted Kennewick Man's features came face to face with the Paleo-American's final resting place for the first time this week.
Amanda Danning, a forensic sculptor from Columbus, Texas, pieced together Kennewick Man's likeness using the 9,000-plus-year-old remains discovered on the banks of the Columbia River by two college students.
Danning, 50, was touring the Columbia River aboard the sternwheeler American Empress on Thursday when she passed the riverbank where Kennewick Man was unearthed in 1996.
"When we sailed by, I was looking at bridges," Danning said Friday afternoon in Howard Amon Park as the American Empress sat docked along the river shore. "I didn't realize it was that close."
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Not one to let an opportunity pass her by, Danning visited the muddy banks of Kennewick Man's grave later that day.
"I don't claim any real spiritual connection, but I feel very enthused to be at this location and meet some of the people that were involved locally," she said.
Danning has reconstructed 12 faces from recovered remains since becoming a consultant for the Smithsonian Institution in 2005. She holds a sculpting degree from Florida Atlantic University and created museum portraits before beginning her consulting work.
Kennewick Man presented Danning with unique challenges -- cheekbones were missing, the mandible was torqued and portions of the remains were desiccated. Soft-tissue depth information dating back to Kennewick Man's time didn't exist.
He showed signs of subsisting mostly on saltwater marine mammals -- something unlikely for a person living in the Mid-Columbia region, Danning said. She described him as a traveler.
"(Kennewick Man) was a challenge because the bones were damaged," Danning said. "I think in all the other circumstances, (Kennewick Man) was more of a challenge than anyone but Horn Shelter."
The Horn Shelter site in central Texas yielded the 11,100-year-old remains of a man and child in 1970 along with more than 100 pieces of funeral offerings. Limestone slabs covered the bodies, but not the heads. Danning worked on reconstructing the facial features in 2005.
A year later, Danning spent more than 60 hours during three weeks reconstructing Kennewick Man's features. She relied on the Manchester Method to build the face, a process that includes building muscles around the eyes and mouth while using soft-tissue depth markers to determine physical features. She worked on a model of his skull, one of his best-preserved features.
"The skull was in amazing condition for when it was found," Danning said.
Crafting a face from a healthy person's undamaged skull requires 18 to 20 hours of work, Danning said.
She called Kennewick Man one of the most provocative projects she's worked on. It raises more questions than answers, she said, including where, exactly, he and his ancestors came from. The most common theory is that Native Americans crossed from Asia via a land bridge through Alaska. Other theories suggest they may have come by other routes.
"We're getting information that there was more than one crossing from more than one direction," she said.
Danning's visit to the Tri-Cities follows the release of Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton, a 680-page publication released by Texas A&M University Press. The cover features a cropped image of Danning's Kennewick Man -- a pair of weathered, almond eyes peer at the reader from beneath two bushy eyebrows. Forty-eight authors and 17 researchers contributed to the publication, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Danning ended her visit to the Tri-Cities with an afternoon presentation aboard the American Empress.
"We really didn't even know she was a guest on board until someone told us," said Laurence Cotton, a "riverlorian" with the American Queen Steamboat Company.
-- Drew Foster: 509-582-1513; email@example.com