'Kennewick Man' Mystery Over: He's Native American

Finding might lead to his burial
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2015 3:38 PM CDT
'Kennewick Man' Mystery Over: He's Native American
This 1997 file photo shows a plastic casting of the skull of Kennewick Man.   (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Kennewick Man is not only "one of the most important human skeletons ever found in North America," in the words of the Guardian, it's also one of the most controversial. Now a new DNA study might—but only might—bring finality to the debate over the "Ancient One." Danish researchers have concluded that he was Native American, they report in Nature. The results could sway the Army Corps of Engineers to turn over the remains to Native American groups for burial. Scientists want the bones kept available for study, and they have pushed against allowing Native Americans to bury the remains ever since they were found about 20 years ago in Washington state. One reason: The skull doesn't resemble those of Native Americans. The corps promises to review the study and make a decision "as quickly as possible," reports the Washington Post.

“It’s very clear that Kennewick Man is most closely related to contemporary Native Americans,” a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study tells the New York Times. “In my view, it’s bone-solid.” A skeptical Smithsonian scientist, however, tells AP that the results aren't conclusive enough to tie Kennewick Man—a "traveler" who lived about 8,500 years ago—to modern tribes. Either way, the study author points out an ironic twist: The DNA tests suggesting Native American heritage—and thus opening the door to burial—were made possible by court victories won by scientists seeking to keep the remains available for study. Still, Native American groups aren't expecting a quick resolution. “We expect to have a fight," says a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, "but we would like to see him buried very respectfully in a resting place where he should be." (More Kennewick Man stories.)

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