DNA from ancient skeleton shows ties to Native Americans

June 18, 2015 byMalcolm Ritter,
DNA from ancient skeleton shows ties to Native Americans (Update)
This July 24, 1997 file photo shows a plastic casting of the skull from the bones known as Kennewick Man in Richland, Wash. The ancient skeleton, found nearly 20 years ago in a river in Washington, is related to Native Americans, says a DNA study published Thursday, June 18, 2015. The finding could help resolve a long-running dispute over its ancestry and custody. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

An ancient skeleton found nearly 20 years ago in a river in Washington is related to Native Americans, says a DNA study that could help resolve a long-running dispute over its ancestry and custody.

The skeleton, known as Kennewick Man, is about 8,500 years old. The new work argues against earlier suggestions that it wasn't connected to modern native peoples, the researchers said.

Most scientists trace modern native groups to Siberian ancestors who arrived by way of a land bridge that used to extend to Alaska. But features of Kennewick Man's skull led some scientists to suggest its ancestors came from elsewhere.

Researchers turned to DNA analysis to try to clarify the skeleton's ancestry. They recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone, mapped its genetic code and compared that to modern-day DNA from native peoples of the Americas and populations around the world.

The results showed a greater similarity to DNA from the Americas than from anywhere else, with a close relationship to at least one Native American population in Washington.

The research, by an international team of scientists, was published online Thursday by the journal Nature. Preliminary results were reported in January by The Seattle Times.

Kennewick Man isn't the oldest human remains from North America to have its entire DNA code mapped, and several experts said the new results are no surprise. But Kennewick Man isn't just any fossil.

"It's a very high-profile individual and has been for a long time," said anthropologist Dennis O'Rourke of the University of Utah, who wasn't involved in the new study.

One reason is the scientific argument over its ancestry, driven by skull features that looked more like those of Polynesians or other groups. Another is a legal dispute over what should be done with the skeleton, which was uncovered in 1996 after two men stumbled across part of its skull in the Columbia River near the city of Kennewick in southern Washington.

Some Native American tribes asked that it be handed over to them for reburial, under a 1990 federal law aimed at returning certain Native American cultural items, including human remains, to descendants and culturally affiliated tribes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the land where Kennewick Man was found, planned to grant the request. But some scientists sued to block that, saying the bones should be kept available for study.

In 2004, a federal appeals court agreed with lower court decisions to block the handover, agreeing with the scientists that the law did not apply because there was no evidence to connect the remains to any existing tribe.

It's not clear what the results of the DNA analysis will mean for the dispute.

One group that had asked for the remains, the Washington-based Colville tribe, donated DNA for the work. Analysis showed that Kennewick Man is "very closely related to the Colville," said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, senior author of the study. He said DNA from the other tribes that had asked for the bones was not available for the study, but that he suspected they are closely related, too.

But he said he and his team took no position on the legal question about custody of the skeleton. The work received no funding from any Native American group, he said. He met with members of the Colville tribe earlier this week to share the results.

Jim Boyd, chairman of the council that governs the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said the findings will aid the tribal efforts to rebury the remains.

"We have always maintained the belief that the Ancient One was one of us," he said, using the tribal term for Kennewick Man.

But one of the scientists who sued to block the turnover said he doesn't think the new results connect the skeleton clearly enough to the Colville group to justify handing them over under the federal law.

"The results do not tie Kennewick Man exclusively to the Colville," said Doug Owsley, division head for physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History,

Other data show Kennewick Man was "a traveler.... His people were coming from somewhere else. We don't know who that people (were), we don't know what their culture was," Owsley said.

Willerslev said that because researchers don't have a comprehensive collection of DNA samples from native populations in the Americas, they can't tell what population Kennewick Man is most closely related to.

Brig. Gen. John Kem, commander of the Northwestern Division of the Corps of Engineers, said his staff will analyze the research so he can decide whether to turn the bones over to the tribes. The skeleton is stored at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

Ancient remains have been reburied before after scientific study. Last year, 12,600-year-old bones of a baby boy found in Montana were reburied in a tribal ceremony after DNA showed links to native peoples.

Explore further: Kennewick Man's DNA likely that of a Native

More information: The paper 'The Ancestry and Affiliation of Kennewick Man' is published in the journal Nature on Thursday 18. June 2015. DOI: 10.1038/nature14625

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17 comments

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Jquip
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 18, 2015
Well this is hogwash. Apparently I have to believe that Polynesians are more closely related to bacteria than 'Native Americans.' And that Kennewick is more closely related to 'Native Americans' than the Colville trive. That their results are conclusive -- not 'can' but 'do' -- show that there is no mistake that can be made by making an incomplete sampling of the DNA like the previous guys. Which is only way to believe that the Polynesians are not genetically close to bacteria, natch.

And for all of sound and fury, they haven't refuted the proposition that Kennewick hails from the Polynesians and that the Colville tribe traces some of their ancestry to that region. At least, not by the reporting here. The whole thing reads like a Texas Sharpshooter expedition for a class action suit about [insert whatever p-hacked fallacy of the day.]
Pediopal
1 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2015
Come on Dougie, give it a break will you? Just admit you used this whole fiasco to further your career and now the truth is out. You should apologize to the tribes for the trouble you have caused and the public for the BS you fed them.

http://www.tribal...d47.html
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (5) Jun 18, 2015
So Patrick Stewart _is_ american! "Make it so." [ http://www.bbc.co...33170655 ]

Well, I am glad that is settled.

@Jquip: "hogwash". Prove it.

I don't think the genetic analysis is that good as of yet (I hear only one read on average, when we have at least two for the first Neanderthals) but the results are good enough to resolve the nearest living kin obviously. (Which, as other notes here, doesn't mean much claim of ownership after nearly 10 000 years.)

Bacteria isn't the useful outgroup here. Possibly San people, or other africans.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2015
@ogg_ogg: Well, maybe it should be a science issue, science has political/legal/power and other social ramifications and vice versa. Here in Sweden the state can expropriate practically anything for science, since the whole population benefit and since we have a democracy so we have given them the right to do so. (Modulo that democracy isn't perfect and it is the majority, of yesteryear no less, that implicitly did so.)

I agree on everything else (except the Godwin, obviously - I would say the US syphilis experiments is a better fit).
viko_mx
1 / 5 (5) Jun 19, 2015
Every part of this sveleton shows a different age. But here researchers consider only the skull.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2015
Every part of this sveleton shows a different age. But here researchers consider only the skull.

Where is your evidence of this? What method of dating was used? What were the specific ages for each part? Were they tested all using the same method? Do you believe the dates you've seen accurate? Do you believe the skull is correctly dated?

viko_mx
1 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2015
You can check every time what results give to as known dating method. These methods are pointless to reconstruct the past.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2015
Then how do you know the bones are all separate ages like you claimed above?
viko_mx
1 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2015
Because the result are always the same. Different ages for different parts of the sceletons or artefacts.
Vietvet
5 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2015
@darkdestruction.

Yiko only has his young creationists myths. That's all he has, it's all he ever has and the only thing he'll ever have.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2015
Viko, Can you give specific examples of that?
viko_mx
1 / 5 (5) Jun 19, 2015
Once you get your inspiration from internet sources of information why you do not look for such information? Or you are convinced that it is hidden? Go in the lab where are doing such tests and ask workers there.
Vietvet
5 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2015
Every part of this sveleton shows a different age. But here researchers consider only the skull.

@viko

You made the claim, it's up to you to substantiate it.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2015
Once you get your inspiration from internet sources of information why you do not look for such information? Or you are convinced that it is hidden? Go in the lab where are doing such tests and ask workers there.

I'm convinced you are a young earth creationist troll who talks big but can't support any of his claims and don't know what you are talking about. . Thanks for confirming it once again.
Bongstar420
1 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2015
This is why I don't mind the "natives" being marginalized. Now if we could only marginalize all the other religious BS out there (including scientism).

If they wanna do something useful, study the item, and put it up for public reference, then I am cool with them wanting control.

They need to stop it with this spiritus garbage and get on the space station with us.
Bongstar420
1 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2015
Come on Dougie, give it a break will you? Just admit you used this whole fiasco to further your career and now the truth is out. You should apologize to the tribes for the trouble you have caused and the public for the BS you fed them.

http://www.tribal...d47.html


The tribe should apologize for slowing the progress of science in favor of their life styles and religious beliefs.
saccoflame
not rated yet Jun 22, 2015
The ownership of the remains is a political/legal/power issue, not a scientific one. I want the native graves protection law to be broadened so that I (of European decent) can claim ANY fossil as an "ancestor".]

There no more preciousness or evil idea then the fruit if the poison tree. The goal of the idea was to acquit those who commit violent crimes so they could commit more crimes. It is based on an endorsement of lies in the service of you unending need for power. If you don't like the law change it be then you would have people agree with you.

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