Subhash R. Walimbe
Retired Faculty, Deccan College
Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune 411006
Prof. Kenneth AR Kennedy is in true sense the most noteworthy name in Indian human skeletal biology. His interests spanned diverse topics in human skeletal biology, ecology, and Asian studies. He was also a diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and made significant contributions in propagating methodologies in this field. His concern for human paleobiology in South Asia was exceptional. His contributions to this field, in research and training, had a profound impact on the future contours of skeletal biological research in the sub-continent.
Kenneth Adrian Raine Kennedy was born in Oakland, California on June 26, 1930. He received his BA in 1953, and MA in 1954 from the University of California, Berkeley. His MA thesis, written under the supervision of Theodore D. McCown, entitled “The Aboriginal Population of the Great Basin”, focused on cranial and postcranial skeletal morphology. After serving for three‐year (1954–1957) in the military, he returned to Berkeley in 1958 for his doctoral studies. During his time at Berkeley which he remembered as “the golden age of palaeoanthropology,” he was able to work with many of the now legendary figures in twentieth century anthropology including Robert Lowie, John Heiser, Sherwood Washburn, and others. It was at Berkeley that he established a life-long relationship with Theodore D. McCown, mentor, collaborator, and friend with whom he co-edited Climbing Man’s Family Tree: A Collection of Major Writings on Human Phylogeny (1972, Prentice Hall, New Hersey).
Professor Kennedy’s doctoral research (1962), under the supervision of McCown and Sherwood L. Washburn, focused on fossil skeletal remains from Sri Lanka held by the British Museum, London. This doctoral thesis entitled, “the Balangodese of Ceylon: Their Biological and Cultural Affinities with the Veddas” was the beginning of his long and illustrious career studying the palaeoanthropology of South Asia. After completing his dissertation at Berkeley, Kenneth spent two years on a National Science Foundation fellowship at Deccan College, Pune. Thereafter, he maintained a close association with Deccan college for the next fifty years. He joined Cornell University, Ithaca, NY in 1964. With brief interruptions for academic research leaves that took him to other institutions, especially to museum collections and to collaborative fieldwork sites in South Asia, he remained at Cornell for the remaining part of his professional career. In 2005 he was elevated as Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, and Asian Studies, in recognition of his outstanding and prolonged contribution to the subject. He remained active in continuing his scholarly work until his death on April 23, 2014.
Between 1962 and 1988, Prof. Kennedy must have spent over 50 months in South Asia, as a visiting scholar or a field researcher. His extensive paleoanthropological work on the sub‐ Himalayan landmass included visiting fellowships in India (Deccan College, Pune, and the University of Allahabad) and Pakistan (University of Islamabad), as well as numerous field research projects in Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. As his student Prof. Angela Lieverse writes in a special festschrift symposium held in his honour at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in 2008, and then again in the foreword to the volume dedicated to his work in South Asia: A Companion to South Asia in the Past (2016: p. xxi)
the scope of Kennedy’s work has been nothing short of astonishing, ranging geographically from Sri Lanka in the southeast to Pakistan in the northwest and spanning extensive temporal periods from the Miocene (the anthropoid apes of the Siwalik hills) through the middle Holocene (Harappa, the Indus Valley Civilization).
His long association with Allahabad University archaeology scholars was sustained by his students, particularly by Prof. John R. Lukacs, Prof. Nancy Lovell, Dr. Nelson, among few others. These inputs proved extremely important to understand the lifeways and adaptive strategies of the Gangetic Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. His immense scholarship and passion for South Asian palaeoanthropology is reflected in more than 100 research papers on the region. These included over 50 journal articles and 60 contributed book chapters. In addition, he edited and authored over a dozen books and monographs on the topic.
While finalizing his report on Mahadaha Mesolithic skeletal series at Allahabad in 1994, he conceptualized his celebrated book titled God‐Apes and Fossil Men that earned him the 2002 W.W. Howells Prize from the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association. This monograph outlines the extensive history of paleoanthropological research in South Asia gleaned from his decades‐long work in the region. Written in a style accessible to the general reader, the book pioneers a new approach involving the integration of data from archaeological, paleontological, ecological, and anthropological investigations to offer a comprehensive picture of the origins, diversity, and lifeways of southern Asian populations.
This book is incredibly broad in scope. It encapsulates concerns in geography, geology, ecology, prehistory, protohistory, primate and human palaeontology, skeletal biology, human variation, genetics, and linguistics. Through his writings, he weaves a fascinating intellectual history of biological anthropology/archaeology in South Asia. His work presents a superb synthesis of the origins of agriculture, the emergence of an urban complex society (Harappan Civilization), the search for the Aryans, the discovery of the Iron Age Megalithic Builders, and early historic populations. His brilliant insight lucidly discusses the demise of the concept of 'race' and bring to the fore genetic histories and modern techniques of DNA in the study of human diversity.
He parted company from the dominant discourse of the decades of sixties and seventies to offer two distinct theoretical interpretations of South Asian Palaeoanthropology. One rooted in Western scientific traditions and the other in Native Vedic traditions. His academic moorings were occasionally questioned by few ideologues accusing him of having a racist stance. His writings clearly demonstrate that he was far from any such positioning. His research interests primarily remained focused on osteological examination of the skeletons. He never insisted on linking every skeletal remain to either a racial stalk or ethnic classification.
He was keen to understand the nature of biological adaptations of the bygone populations in response to their lifestyle, food‐procuring techniques, and health. He also used his data to comprehend biological continuity in ancient and contemporary populations. He is credited with the introduction of a Paleo-demographic approach to Indian human skeletal biology. He collaborated with several scholars across the subcontinent and was instrumental in attaining academic acceptance for the study of Human Skeletons as an important component of Indian archaeology. This incredible scholar invested his heart, soul, and years of toil into this dream project, which later served as a model for all studies in this field.
The fossil record to trace the evolutionary routes of Homo sapiens is scanty, yet the Indian subcontinent provides an excellent spectrum of human skeletal evidence representing a wide temporal span of the last 10,000 years. However, research on archaeological human skeletal remained negligible in India till the 1980s. Many excavators of these finds are not even aware of the academic value of this rare and rich data source. Sadly, this ignorance continues to saddle the progress of the discipline in India. There is considerable diligence given to the collection of archeological evidence of burial, but adequate care required for the maintenance of skeletal remains is lacking. Existing training in the field has not sufficiently emphasized the need for collecting fragmentary bones. Many excavators never approach experts in skeletal biology to examine their findings. Tracing the skeletal material from the repositories is another major hurdle in this domain. Storage conditions in many repositories are far below the desired standard.
Prof. Kennedy was seriously concerned about this apathy. In an article titled, The Uninvited Skeleton at the Archaeological Table: The Crisis of Palaeoanthropology in South Asia in the Twenty-first Century , he says:
The osteological company is not always welcome at the archaeological banquet. Some excavators have left the burials unexhumed; others packed them off to a museum or other institution, where they linger unexamined for decades; and not infrequently the excavated skeletons were lost, purposefully destroyed, or reburied without scientific study.
He further comments,
One element of lack of infrastructure and appointments of well-trained future personnel is a sense of individual ownership of archaeological and osteological specimens recovered during the periods of one’s active field research. …. Proper curation of specimens suffers as a consequence of this mindset as storage facilities (after their transfer or retirement) are not maintained for security and temperature control, and their availability and sound preservation for future investigators is compromised.
During the span of more than 50 years of research in the Indian sub-continent he collaborated with many institutions; important among them, are: Archaeological and Anthropological Survey of India, Allahabad University; Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu State Departments of Archaeology and Museums; and Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune; along with several archaeology-anthropology government departments-universities in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He contributed immensely to various facets of palaeoanthropology of the region, and motivated archaeologists to take human skeletal recovery findings more seriously. He also encouraged several American and local younger scholars to join this specialization.
Prof. Kennedy also made impressive contributions to Forensic anthropology. He was one of the founding members of the American Board of Forensic Anthropologists, being awarded the distinction of Diplomate (DABFA) in 1978. As a medical forensic expert, he contributed significantly to the study and identification of skeletal remains throughout New York State. His numerous forensic anthropological works included publications on occupational stress, individual identification, and contestations in constructing the racial affinities along with several other areas. He was bestowed the T. Dale Stewart Award for Forensic Anthropology in 1987 by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
In his distinguished career, he supervised 11 successful doctoral students at the Cornell University from 1970 to 2005. Subjects covered as part of these research studies were varied and diverse. These included modern human variation, skeletal and dental morphology and pathology, primate anatomy, human adaptation, bone microarchitecture, forensic identification in mass fatalities, and habitual and occupational activity.
The collective breadth of these areas of research and subsequent professional trajectories reflects the essence and richness of his prolific career. Some of his students namely John Lukacs and Nancy Lovell, persisted with his legacy and continued their research on skeletal collections of the sub-continent. He was admired by his colleagues. One of his close colleagues, Professor Michael Little of Binghamton University described him as a “warm and generous mentor who was committed to teaching, education and maintaining high standards for student’s work, work that he set by his own example.” Such accolades were bestowed on him by his students and colleagues frequently.
In addition to his research activities, Kennedy devoted much of his career to service, particularly to professional organizations, scholarly journals, and student training. Over the years, he became a member of 19 professional societies, including the American Anthropological Association (AAA), American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), and American Academy of Forensic Sciences, being elected to the executive committees of all three. He assumed editorial roles for American Anthropologist and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and wrote over 30 book reviews published in renowned journals like Nature, Current Anthropology, Human Biology, and American Palaeontologist.
Prof. Kenneth AR Kennedy left for his heavenly abode on 23rd April 2014 after nearly fifty years of tireless service to the profession he adored. He remained active till a week before his death, continuing to make significant contributions to paleoanthropological research. He persisted with his pursuit for excellence even after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibroid that was creating problems with his respiration and had made him physically frail.
I share his mission and vision for academic diligence that is bound to inspire younger fraternity to follow his footsteps.
REMINISCING A GREAT FRIEND To me, prof. Kennedy was a role model, an idol, and above all a source of inspiration. I met him for the first time in May 1980, few months after I joined Deccan College, Pune.
At that time, he was working on Bhimbetka and Langhnaj skeletons. He did not mentor me as I was not involved with his research work, but just observing him work on bones meant a lot to me. My expertise in this field was primarily bookish then, as I had limited experience on the Chalcolithic Inamgaon sub-adult specimens. I did not get any exposure in archaeology during my post-graduate training, though at that time the Pune University anthropology department was housed in Deccan College campus itself, and the departmental laboratory was housed within the precincts of archaeology building! We were regularly taken to tribal areas for anthropology fieldwork training but never had a chance to participate in any archaeological excavation. Idea of a career in archaeology was not part of my postgraduate training. I had no clue that subjects like human skeletal biology was also part archaeology. What I learnt from the persona of Prof. Kennedy was not so much about methods or techniques, but it was ethics and sensitivity he showed to the skeletal remains. Finesse, care, and respect with which he handled the collected bone specimens was a monumental lesson for me.
Prof. Kenneth Kennedy was a keen follower of the work of my laboratory. I hardly ever shared any academic platform with him, but he quoted and commented on our research in several of his articles. In appreciation of our research, in his monograph God Apes and Fossil Men ….”, he reiterated a review comment made for one of our early works (Am. Jr. Hum. Bio. 6(5):668) writing:
This is a (italics mine) first study of its kind in southern Asia, it constitutes an original and innovative approach to the bio-anthropology of prehistoric peoples of the Indian subcontinent. The main strength of this .... unique and valuable contribution ...lies in its synthetic perspective and well-conceived research design. .... It clearly demonstrates that integrated and problem-oriented research in bio-anthropology is coming of age in India.
His admiration for my humble contribution to the study of forensics in India was my biggest reward. He was not only a brilliant researcher but was also a leader. He will be credited for giving formal contour and recognition to the field of human skeletal biology and South Asian prehistory for posterity. Above all, he was kind and generous. He shared his expertise and enriched experiences, unhesitatingly with me, even though I was never formally associated with him in any capacity. Our last communication was in the month of March 2014, when he sent a catalogue of human bones available in Pakistan to me. He knew about embargos that restrained me from visiting Pakistan but wanted somebody to know about these collections.
This tribute to this eminent scholar would remain incomplete without acknowledging his personal warmth and generous hospitality shown to me during two trips to the United States. He hosted me for two days during my first visit to the US in June 1983. I had the honour of being hosted by him for four days again in August 2007, nearly thirty-five years after my first visit. I was pleasantly surprised to see idol of Saraswathi, sitting on his study table that I gifted to him in 1983 as a tribute to his knowledge and rare scholarship. During my second visit with him, I proposed to bring out a commemorative volume acknowledging his distinguished service to the discipline of Human Biology in the Indian subcontinent. He agreed rather hesitatingly, asking me to wait till his retirement.
During my 2012 US visit, I discussed the idea of the commemorative volume with Prof. Gwen Robbins-Schug of Appalachian State University. She was a student of Prof. John Lukas who trained with Prof. Kennedy. It will not be inappropriate to call her, Prof. Kennedy’s academic granddaughter. She willingly agreed to give her valuable time. I communicated with Prof Kennedy on Email dated 7th July 2012. He readily gave his consent but expressed reservations about three of the proposed contributors to the volume. We respected his wishes as his command. Thereafter, the project went smoothly, and he appreciated our efforts, acknowledging diversity of contributors that included both young and senior researchers across genders. We shared the blueprint of the edited volume with him in 2014, shortly before his death.
This edited volume, entitled, A Companion to South Asia in the Past, published by WILEY Blackwell in 2016, provides the definitive overview of research and knowledge about South Asia’s past from the Pleistocene to the Historic era in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. These accounts are provided by a global team of experts. We requested Dr. Angela R. Liverse, University of Saskatchewan, Canada, a former doctoral student of Prof. Kennedy’s to write foreword to this volume. This volume serves as an important source of authentic research on Human Biology in South Asia*. We were sincerely hoping for early completion of this volume, as timely publication would have been the right tribute to Prof. Kennedy’s immense scholarship. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the publication, but he was very excited about it, and knew how much he meant to everyone.
My memories of Kenneth as he insisted I address him, goes back to 1980. Since we met for the first time, till his last days we corresponded regularly by letters and cards and then recently via email. I do not recollect even a single year having not received a X-mas and New Year card from him. Kenneth and his wife Margaret were excellent hosts, and made special efforts to ensure my dietary preferences were met. I remember two evening sessions held at his house in Ellis Hollow, over a glass of his favourite white wine. I remember coffee and sweets, home-made baked Macaroni with pineapple. I recall their insistence on Indian masala chai prepared by me for them. I also have very fond memories of their pet cat, who joined us for dinner in one of those evenings. I shall never forget our day trip to Taughannock Falls State Park. What an incredible personality this man was!!!!
A Memorial service was held for Prof. Kenneth Kennedy on June 14, 2014, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Ithaca, NY. I had sent a condolence message on behalf of the Indian anthropological community, which was read by Dr. Peg Caldwell-Ottonehis, a former student of his at the memorial service.
This remarkable soul left behind a rich legacy for generations to cherish. I salute him for his indomitable spirit and outstanding scholarship.
*This blog draws a lot of personal and professional information about Professor Kennedy from the commemorative volume A Companion to South Asia in the Past.
SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTIONS Kennedy. A.R. 2000 God‐Apes and Fossil Men. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press.
 Published in Asian Perspective, 2003, 42(2)-352-367.