Kennewick Man Back in the News

Kennewick Man Back in the News


Kennewick Man Back in the News

In a letter dated August 23, 2011, the United States Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers granted access to a bone fragment of the skeletal remains of the “Kennewick Man”, also known as “The Ancient One”. The bone fragment was to be used in a destructive test attempt to recover sufficient DNA for determination of Kennewick Man’s ancestry, his genome.

This set of remains has been the subject of controversy since very shortly after its discovery and was the pivot in a now famous (or infamous) court case that pitted regional tribes and the US government against a handful of scientists. The scientists wanted to study the bones and the other litigants wanted to bury them without delay in an undisclosed location. The case even resulted in an amendment to the Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, mostly because the judge ruled in favor of the scientists.

For a more comprehensive history of the case, both in and out of court, up to March 2007, please go HERE.

Not much happened to KM between 2007 and the Corps’ letter allowing further testing. Apparently, something happened since the Copenhagen lab got the bone fragment last year, but it hasn’t resulted in a report yet. They have become chillingly silent on the topic and their testing. The most likely reason is that their test method didn’t yield results, or, secondly, that the results don’t fit someone’s agenda.

In the meantime, however, another set of remains, known as the “Anzick Child” has yielded interesting results and the tests were done in the same lab that has the bone fragment from KM.

The Anzick Child, less than two-years old at the time of the burial, died about 12,600 years ago. His family stained him with red ochre and he was buried in a grave, both carefully and ceremonially likely wrapped in hides which subsequently disappeared over time. Along with him were buried 115 bone and stone artifacts, all stained with red ochre as well. The child rested undisturbed until his remains were hit by a bulldozer in 1968. All the clues about the burial indicate it was conducted by “Clovis Culture” people. As the naturalist Doug Peacock relates in his book, In the Shadow of the Sabertooth:

It’s possible that no ancient American human skeleton has been treated more shabbily than the Anzick child. The discoverers, not understanding the significance of their find, took the burial materials home and scrubbed them hard with brushes in the sink, trying to get all that red stuff off. The fragmented human remains have been separated and handled by dozens, maybe many dozens of modern humans since their discovery. Cranial fragments were glued together with rubber cement. Everybody who came through carried off a few pieces of the child’s skeleton.


The Anzick Child DNA has finally been analyzed and the results have been released and interpreted by Dr. Michael R. Waters, Director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans. He didn’t actually conduct the test himself, that was Eske Willerslev of Copenhagen, Denmark, the same person and lab to whom the bone fragment of Kennewick Man was entrusted in 2011.

The Anzick Child results, according to Waters, shows very clearly a maternal lineage back to Eastern Asia. Waters didn’t mention the paternal lineage at all in his press releases.

Waters and his associates found that the child is a member of one of the five “haplogroups,” of Mitochondrial DNA (passed from mother to children) that are commonly found among Indian people, haplogroup D. This halpogroup is widely found in Asia and Siberia, and there is no question that there are genetic links between the two hemispheres. What was very interesting was the Y-chromosome (passed from father to son) results, which was not reported in the press.

Branches 21 and 25 represent the most recent shared ancestry between Anzick-1 and other members of the sample. Branch 19 is considerably shorter than neighbouring branches, which have had an additional ~12,600 years to accumulate mutations.

In other words, compared to other similar DNA, for example those of certain Mayan Indians (the “neighboring branches”), the Anzick child’s DNA was approximately 12,600 years younger. Since the child was already 12,600 years old, it would mean that the Mayan DNA was at least 25,000 years old and imply that the Mayans had left Asia, or genetically separated from Asians (if indeed they actually came that way), more than 10,000 years before the current theory says they should have. Genetic studies have consistently shown that Indian DNA is very ancient, but since most archaeologists do not accept the idea that Indians have been in the Americas longer than 15,000 years, the discrepancies between the genetic dates and the mainstream archaeological views have yet to be explained to anyone’s satisfaction.

The theory that Indians first crossed into the Americas through the Bering Strait 15,000 years ago, although firmly held by archaeologists for more than 100 years, has come under increasing challenge, not simply from genetic evidence, but also from new archaeological discoveries in South America. (source)

Back to Kennewick Man

The addressee on the letter mentioned at the beginning of this post is Dr. Thomas W. Stafford, Jr, co-author of Waters’ on the paper regarding the Anzick Child and a dozen or so other papers regarding “the first Americans”. The same team that brought us the Clovis Child results that left out the idea that the child’s DNA included evidence indicating that man has been in the Americas for at least 24,000 years. More to the point, the letter is approval for second sample “…the need for additional Kennewick remains to complete the DNA analysis”. One might assume that the team simply was unable to extract suffienct DNA from a previous sample. But the same team was able to accomplish their goals with a single sample from the Anzick Child whose bones are some 3,600 years older than KM’s. Or, possibly, the previous sample was contaminated by DNA from modern researchers (as was the report the first time DNA analysis was performed  on the same bone fragment).

Yet, the Anzick Child remains had been handled by dozens of modern humans over the course of its modern history and the team extracted samples without apparent contamination.

Now, many months after the second KM sample was delivered to Copenhagen, still no report about the Kennewick Man’s genetic lineage, but he and the controversy surrounding him are mentioned in every news release related to “earliest Americans”