The Voices of Bones

The skeleton of a child who died 11,000 years ago may hold answers to the mystery of man's earliest adventure in America—but the past has a way of hiding the truth

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    As it happened, I'd recently renewed an old acquaintance with an eminent archaeologist friend from my past. He was a retired professor named Mark Papworth, and he had been my first mentor and a major formative influence.

I grew up in Michigan, trailing after my father, who organized Boy Scout troops in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. One day, when I was still too young for the Scouts, I was wandering through the woods on my own and found an arrowhead in a blowout on a sand ridge. An entire other world opened to me. At 14, I experienced the thrill of my young life when, tramping along a ridge in the farm country outside Saginaw, I found a 3,700-year-old skeleton that had been stained with red ocher and buried with a bundle of copper tools. I quit there, and called the anthropology department at the University of Michigan. Papworth, a grad student at the time, was the archaeologist they sent to assess the site. Later, in the early sixties, I took an archaeology class from him at the University of Michigan. He was a fabulous teacher, and something of a maverick; once, when he was running low on cash, he sold me his beloved 12-gauge Ithaca LeFever shotgun.

But then we lost touch. Three decades had passed since we last spoke when out of the blue I received a letter from my old professor. Apparently he'd read my book, Grizzly Years, in which I described taking vengeance on a malfunctioning rural phone booth. "I bet that was my shotgun you used to shoot that phone booth," the letter said. Enclosed was a business card: "Mark Papworth, Ph.D., Chief Deputy Coroner, Thurston County, Special Deputy-Homicide, Thurston County Sheriff's Office. Member of the Faculty, Evergreen State College."

I wrote back, "Dear Dr. P.: I shot that sucker six times with great satisfaction using your shotgun." And so our friendship resumed.

I knew that Papworth, now 67, would be tempted by Lahren's scheme, and indeed he was. He agreed to join the team, saying, "It will be a last great adventure for this old man." For the rest of the winter and into spring, the three of us talked and schemed and brainstormed. In May, we visited Mel and Helen Anzick at their home near Livingston and asked for permission to resume the work that had come to a halt in the 1970s. To our delight, they said yes. Our hope was that we could work steadily at the site for five summers running.

Perhaps the Anzick site was finally going to get its due. If not, we would at least have a hell of a lot of fun.

 

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