The Japan Times
February 28, 2000
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS

DNA TESTING SET FOR KENNEWICK MAN

Contention rife over early population of Americas

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Researchers will try to extract DNA from the bones of Kennewick Man in an effort to learn the racial ancestry of the 9,000-year-old remains.

The U.S. Department of the Interior last month classified the bones as Native American, but the DNA tests may help bury theories that the bones are of European or African ancestry, said Francis McManamon, chief archaeologist for the National Park Service. The DNA tests may also show whether Kennewick Man is an ancestor of any modern Indian tribes.

"We believe that DNA analysis will help determine the biological and genetic racial ancestry of the remains," McManamon said. "It will be useful for cultural affiliation purposes if we can obtain accurate mitochondrial DNA analysis." Some DNA data found in Indians is not found in people of European or African ancestry.

Representatives of the Umatilla Indians in northern Oregon, who claim the bones as an ancestor and want them reburied immediately, expressed outrage over the proposed tests.

"These studies are not being done to prove cultural affiliation," said Jeff van Pelt, a spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. "They are being done to appease the scientists and the court."

Umatilla trustee Armand Minthorn said science was ill-served by DNA tests.

"There is overwhelming scientific evidence that indicates DNA testing can prove nothing more than what they already know, that the remains are Native American," he said. U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks of Portland, Ore., said last year that any decision on Kennewick Man without DNA tests would be suspect. Scientists suing for the right to study the bones have long pushed for DNA testing.

McManamon warned, however, that the low level of human bone collagen detected in the remains means there are "no guarantees of a conclusive outcome." The bones may have been contaminated by modern DNA present in the environment, he said.

Since the bones were found in the shallows of the Columbia River in 1996, five Northwest tribes have claimed Kennewick Man as an ancestor and insisted the remains be reburied without study.

The 380 bones and skeletal fragments are among the oldest and most complete skeletons found in North America. Last month the Interior Department released results of radiocarbon-dating that placed their age at between 9,320 and 9,510 years old.

Typically, the government has classified bones over 500 years old as Native American, citing the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Eight prominent anthropologists have sued the government for the right to study the bones. The anthropologists have been pressing in court for DNA testing as the most effective means of determining Kennewick Man's origins.

Jelderks had given the government until March 24 to decide whether it will give the anthropologists access to the bones. But the Interior Department recently asked Jelderks for a six-month extension of that deadline so researchers can complete the DNA process.

"The request should be denied," Alan Schneider and Paula Barran, lawyers for the anthropologists, said in court documents. They said the government should have done DNA testing years ago.

Minthorn, the Umatilla tribal leader, said the legal fight over Kennewick Man has huge implications.

"What is at issue in this case is not just our desire to protect one ancestor," Minthorn said, "but how this case will be applied to every other Native American skeleton found in the United States."

Native American Neanderthals?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) Kennewick Man looks so "European" because he had Neanderthal roots, a scientist said at the Feb. 18 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The National Park Service said earlier this month it would allow a genetic analysis of the skeleton, which some Native American groups claim as an ancestor and want buried.

It has intrigued researchers because the features seem to suggest a more Caucasian than Asian origin. Others say he looks like an Ainu — the aboriginal people of Japan who are often said to be physically closer to Europeans than Japanese.

Loring Brace, a specialist in bone measurements at the University of Michigan, says he has a simple explanation for this: Both Kennewick Man and the Ainu, along with the people of Europe, descended from Neanderthals.

"I have long maintained that Neanderthals are obviously the ancestors of living Europeans," Brace said. To produce a modern European out of a Neanderthal, all you have to do is reduce the robustness." Scale down the heavy teeth, jaws and brow of the Neanderthal and you have a European, he said.

It is a controversial theory because most scientists now believe that Neanderthals were an evolutionary dead-end, people who lived side by side with the earliest Homo sapiens but who did not interbreed with them.

Loring said his measurements that compare the skulls of people all over the world suggest a resemblance among peoples living in Europe, along the coastlines of Asia and into ancient North America. He also found two distinct groups among the Native Americans.

"It is clear there are two major groups and they are not closely related to each other at all," Brace said. One group physically resembles East Asians, especially modern Chinese, while the second looks a lot like the Ainu.

"Some of the Plains Indians don't look Native American at all," Brace said.

He thinks they may have come from the same lineage as Kennewick Man. Brace has not been allowed to examine the Kennewick remains, but thinks measurements he could make would support his theories.

Some recent evidence tends to support Brace. In October an international team of scientists tested Neanderthal bones found in Croatia in the 1970s and found them just 28,000 years old, which means they would have lived side by side with modern humans for several thousand years.

Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, led that study and another one that a few months earlier suggested that the 24,500-year-old bones of a child found in Portugal showed characteristics of both Neanderthals and of modern humans.

Trinkaus said this suggested humans and Neanderthals interbred, but Brace said it just as easily could have been an "intermediate" form of human evolving from Neanderthal into modern Homo sapiens sapiens.

Waves of expansion

Although just a few years ago everyone agreed no humans lived in the New World until about 11,000 years ago, and that everyone trekked together over the Bering Strait into Alaska, more and more evidence suggests that people started coming over in successive waves as long as 30,000 years ago.

David Meltzer, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University, noted that huge ice sheets would have blocked any passage from the Bering Strait down through Canada until 11,500 years ago. A settlement in Monte Verde, Chile, has been dated to 12,500 years ago, which suggests people must either have come a different way, or long before the ice sheets formed.

Theodore Schurr of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas, did genetic studies that found four separate lineages in the Americas, and using a "molecular clock" that tracks the rate of mutations in DNA, dates some of them back as far as 25,000 or 30,000 years ago.

Some seem to originate in southeastern Siberia, while one seems to have links with a relatively rare lineage found in a few modern Europeans.

Johanna Nichols of the University of California at Berkeley, who compared the structures of Native American languages to languages found elsewhere in the world, said some of the similarities when dated using a kind of linguistic clock, could date back to a common ancestral language 30,000 years ago.

One thing is clear, Meltzer said: When people did reach what is now the continental United States they spread fast, which meant they had to be astonishingly resourceful.

"In the space of 500 years they completely covered the continent," he said. "These folks had no neighbors."

Most modern hunter-gatherers depend heavily on their neighbors for information about the landscape. The early colonists of the Americas had no one to ask where to find water, food or herbs to cure their ills.