Native ties

Kennewick Man, an 8,500-year-old adult skeleton found in Washington state in 1996, is more closely related to Native American populations than to any other population in the world, according to a new analysis. The finding challenges a 2014 study concluding, based on anatomical data, that Kennewick Man was more related to indigenous Japanese or Polynesian peoples.

The new study compared genetic sequences obtained from a bone in the skeleton’s hand to worldwide genomic data, finding that Kennewick Man is most akin to modern Native Americans. Although the researchers couldn’t assign him to a particular tribe, they say he is closely related to members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington.

Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest have long held that the skeleton, which they call the Ancient One, is that of an ancestor. The new findings, published in June 2015 in Nature, are expected to reignite a legal battle in which five tribes have requested repatriation of the remains for reburial. Lead author and postdoctoral scholar Morten Rasmussen, PhD, started the study at the University of Copenhagen and completed it at Stanford, working with Carlos Bustamante, PhD, professor of genetics.

“Advances in DNA sequencing technology have given us important new tools for studying the great human diasporas and the history of indigenous populations,” says Bustamante. “Morten’s work aligns beautifully with the oral history of native peoples and lends strong support for their claims.”