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DNA Results Indicate Kennewick Man Was Native American


Image credit: Kennewick Man’s skull, front view. Courtesy of Smithsonian/Chip Clark

In 1996, two students found Ancient human remains on a river bank in Kennewick, Washington, so the skeleton they discovered was nicknamed as Kennewick Man. The remains was dated back to 9,000 years ago and it is thought to be one of the most complete skeletons unearthed so far in regard to its age. For the time being, Kennewick Man is kept at the Burke Museum in Washington and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for access to the remains. According to the initial genetic analysis, he was possibly a Native American, but a lot of work need to be done in this respect.

It is very important to identify the ethnicity of Kennewick Man, because a severe legal battle has been going on over the ownership of the remains since its finding. Regional Native American tribes regard Kennewick Man as their respected ancestor. In this case, as mandated by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the remains should be given back to the tribes for burial. However, some anthropologists believe he was not Native American owing to the age of the skeleton, so the remains could be maintained and studied for educational applications.

On the basis of on the morphology of the skull, some anthropologists do not agree with the proposition that Kennewick Man is Native American, because the narrow brain casing and prominent forehead are more closely linked with those living in coastal Asian regions, rather than Native Americans. But, a 13,000-year-old skeleton discovered in Mexico had the similarity in skull shape with Kennewick Man and it was found that this skeleton was  genetically related to Native Americans. If the guess that Kennewick Man was a Native American was right, he should be one of the oldest in the area.

If the matter should be absolutely settled, genetic analysis of the remains should be implemented, which has been ongoing for a couple of years already. It has to be delicate work to extract ancient DNA (aDNA) for scientific analysis, that is newly developed technique. To extract the DNA, the samples of bone have to be destroyed, so it is necessary to test samples scientifically worthwhile.

Mentioning of the research update, Thomas Stafford Jr. to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in his email in 2013 wrote that it had demonstrated the first samples of aDNA collected from two small bone fragments suggesting Kennewick Man had normal, standard Native-American genetics and showing he had same origin of North American Native American.

Talking about this discovery, Stafford added that the bone fragments used for testing were not satisfactory, because they might have been polluted by environmental factors. As Stafford suggested, it would be ideal to use one of Kennewick Man’s teeth for testing, but it has to wait for the several more years until the technology is so advanced that using a tooth could be scientifically justified.

Although the initial results suggested that Kennewick were of Native American origin, more detailed analysis could possibly refute such discovery. People will learn more about Kennewick Man’s origins after the researchers release their results in a peer-reviewed journal. If he is really a Native American, the next question would which tribe he came from. Its solution could be very difficult because of incomplete genetic record of Native American tribes.

Source: Sandi Doughton, The Seattle Times

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