No Bone Unturned: The Adventures of a Top Smithsonian Forensic Scientist and the Legal Battle for America's Oldest Skeletons

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9780060199234: No Bone Unturned: The Adventures of a Top Smithsonian Forensic Scientist and the Legal Battle for America's Oldest Skeletons

When he's not at a notorious disaster, Doug Owsley is entering tombs and crypts, unwrapping mummies, or climbing into caves to unlock the secrets of bones.

In No Bone Unturned, investigative journalist Jeff Benedict not only unveils a compelling portrait of the man behind America's most notorious cases but also gives us a fascinating look inside the world of forensic science as seen through the eyes of a leading specialist.

Doug Owsley's extraordinary talent has put his phone number on speed dial for federal agencies, from the FBI to the CIA and the State Department. When the Branch Davidian compound in Waco caught fire, when a terrorist-flown plane crashed into the Pentagon, and when mass graves were uncovered in Croatia, the authorities called Owsley. Through cutting-edge science, instinctive artistry, and dogged tenacity, Owsley painstakingly rebuilds the skeleton, and helps identify it and determine the cause of death.

A curator for the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, Doug Owsley has handled over ten thousand human skeletons, more than anyone else in America. He has worked with America's historic skeletons, from, colonial Jamestown burials to Plains Indians to Civil War soldiers to skeletons tens of thousands of years old.

That includes the Kennewick Man, a 9,600-year-old human skeleton found in shallow water along the banks of Washington State's Columbia River. It was a skeleton that would turn Owsley's life upside down.

Days before Owsley was scheduled to begin studying the skeleton, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seized it and announced they would repatriate Kennewick Man, burying his bones on the land of the Native American tribes who claimed him. Along with seven of America's leading scientists, Owsley sued the U.S. government over custody. At stake was a wide body of knowledge about our past and our history that would be lost forever if the bones were reburied. For six years, Owsley fought a legal and political battle that put everything at risk, jeopardizing his career and his reputation.

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Review:

Dr. Douglas Owsley, curator for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and forensic scientist "reads bones like most people read books." He also gains as much knowledge from them. In No Bone Unturned: The Adventures of the Smithsonian's Top Forensic Scientist and the Legal Battle for America's Oldest Skeletons, Jeff Benedict presents a double story: a sensitive portrait of this extraordinary scientist and a thorough reporting of the landmark 1996 lawsuit, Robson Bonnichsen et al v. U.S. et al. Benedict admits that his initial plan was to focus on the lawsuit, in which a group of scientists sued the federal government for the right to study the remains of 9,600 year-old Kennewick Man--the oldest complete human skeleton to be found in America and claimed by the Umatilla Native American tribe for reburial, but shifted his focus after hearing about Owsley. The result is a fascinating account of how one man's commitment to science and knowledge could help rewrite North American human history.

Owsley is among the country's leading authorities in skeletal research and physical/forensic anthropology. In addition to curating the Smithsonian's vast Native American skeletal collection, he has assisted various government agencies to identify remains in historic cases ranging from the war in Bosnia and Waco to September 11. By reviewing Owsley's input in these cases, Benedict shows how his involvement in (and impact on) the Kennewick man case is a logical outgrowth of his professional standing and brilliance. Part detective story, part thriller, the lawsuit at the heart No Bone Unturned provides captivating reading. Benedict tells this high-stakes story, replete with legal twists and high-powered political maneuvering, clearly and dynamically. One might think that a story about a scientist and a lawsuit could be, well, as dry as the bones Owsley studies. Far from it--No Bone Unturned makes the case for donning a lab coat and fighting the good fight. --Silvana Tropea

About the Author:

Jeff Benedict conducted the first national study on sexual assault and athletes. He has published three books on athletes and crime, including a blistering exposé on the NFL, Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL, and Public Heroes, Private Felons: Athletes and Crimes Against Women. He is a lawyer and an investigative journalist who has written five books.

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