Kennewick Man: Resolving a Scientific Dispute

Kennewick Man: Resolving a Scientific Dispute


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An 8,500-year-old skeleton discovered in 1996 in Washington State it has sparked a bitter discussion between Native Americans and scientists.

The analyzes carried out on the skeleton, known as ‘Kennewick Man’, resembled Japanese, Polynesian, or even European populations, so it was claimed that was not an ancestor of Native Americans, which caused that the skeleton was not repatriated, as they had requested a group of native americans.

A new study, based on the skeletal genome sequence has revealed that it actually has more in common with Native Americans than with any other population in the world. The study has been led by the University of Copenhagen and has been published online in Nature.

When the skeleton was discovered in 1996, cranial analysis indicated that it was a Euro-American. Radiocarbon tests determined that the age of the bones was between 8,000 and 9,000 years old, so it was an individual from the pre-Columbian era. This fact led to a legal battle over skeleton remains.

The tribes that populate the region where the ‘Kennewick Man’ was found requested that the remains be delivered to them for a new burial on the basis that he was a Native American and, therefore, an ancestor for them. The US Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the site where the skeleton was found, was prepared to do so.

But nevertheless, The operation was blocked due to a lawsuit by eight scientists who questioned the skeleton's Native American identity and caused a stir about its identity. This lawsuit damaged the anthropological community in its relationship with Native American groups and triggered a division within the scientific community. The legal dispute ended in 2004 with a ruling in favor of a more detailed study, that study was published in 2014.

'Kennewick Man, an American ancestor.

The 2014 study included isotopic and anatomical analyzes and it is concluded that the skeleton resembles the peaceful populations of Japan and Polynesia and also has European morphological features, which reinforces the thesis that it is anatomically different from Native Americans.

However, the study does not include DNA analysis, which would have prompted a new study of the genome sequence to be carried out. The study leader is a geneticist and professor at the University of Copenhagen, who has commented the following:

Comparing the sequence of the skeletal genome to the genome of current human populations around the world, it clearly shows that today's Native Americans are clearly their closest relatives.

The rejection of the hypothesis

Other scientists have rejected the hypothesis that the skeleton was clearly related to Native Americans. Morten Rasmussen, a researcher at the ‘Center for GeoGenetics’, has commented that DNA was too degraded to reach such conclusions. Ramus Nielsen, a professor at the University of California (Berkeley) affirms that it is very difficult to relate such ancient human remains.


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