Native Americans in Washington have been protecting Kennewick Man for 20 years, claiming the 9,000-year-old skeleton as their ancestor shortly after he was unearthed in 1996. And DNA results have just proven that their instincts were spot on.
“We’re enjoying this moment,” James Boyd, governing board of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation told The New York Times “The findings were what we thought all along.”
Five tribes had the right to bury and protect Kennewick Man by law, which they were able to do until 2004, when the courts ruled they couldn’t prove he was indeed their forebear and had no legal standing, New Scientist reported.
It wasn’t until just recently that technology advanced far enough to allow researchers to sequence DNA with the smallest sample possible. Luckily, researchers were also just given their sample — a hand bone. From this, they were able to extract his DNA, paste the pieces together, rebuild his genome, and sequence it, Smithsonian reported.
The results offer a fascinating glimpse into the peopling of the Americas.
In past studies, scientists thought his bones resembled remains from the Ainu of Japan and the Moriori of Polynesia. But when they compared his genomes to people all over the world, they determined that he was most closely connected to Native Americans — including the Covilles. In fact, they may his closest ancestor.
The results suggest a couple options: In the first, an ancient cluster of humans split about 9,200 years ago — one group led to Kennewick Man, the other to the Covilles. In the second, he actually gave rise to the tribe. As the group evolved and they incorporated genes from other groups, that close tie was a bit muddled.
However, it’s important to note that the remains haven’t been tied to a specific tribe, and there’s a possibility that he may have closer links to others. Natives have long distrusted science, and so no comprehensive genetic database exists.
Now that their family ties have been proven with science, Boyd said Coville and four other tribes intend to put the Ancient One back in the Earth.
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