Kennewick Man

Kennewick Man| North America | Northwestern United States | 10,000 years ago (Stone Age)

The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 reported ancient civilizations and tribes of “white Indians.” But their Native American guide, who left her name to the Sacagawea Heritage Trail along the Columbia River in Washington state, passed right by what has become without a doubt the most puzzling and controversial wonder of the American West. Kennewick Man came to light on July 28, 1996, when two young men were wading knee-deep along the Columbia’s shoreline trying to finish off a couple cans of beer before sneaking into the Water Follies hydroplane races. One of them stumbled on what he thought was a roundish brown rock, but when he pulled it out of the mud he saw teeth. He had inadvertently found the 9,000 year old skull of one of America’s earliest inhabitants.

Twenty years later, after a long-drawn-out legal battle and more extensive study than any other ancient skeleton ever unearthed, Kennewick Man was reburied at a secret location with 200 members of five Columbia Basin Native American tribes attending the ceremony, including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids.

A 670-page monograph appeared in 2014 detailing Kennewick Man’s cranium shape, morphology, pathology, dental information, including diet, likely travels, habitual activities (a lot of harpooning, apparently, and he was right-handed), injuries (he had a projectile point embedded in his hip), age at death (about 40), hair (dark brown), eye color (brown), tools, burial and skin color (undetermined). Whereas early analyses portrayed Kennewick Man as having a “Caucasoid” skull and physiognomy resembling the British actor Patrick Stewart, suggesting he may be more closely related to Polynesians and Ainu populations in addition to having some European-like features, the picture of origins radically altered with the arrival of the “ancient DNA revolution,” with its longer sequences and large panoply of archeological tools. In 2015, DNA tests showed that Kennewick Man was much more nearly related to Native Americans and was particularly close to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which are local to the area.

Kennewick Man carried the X mitochondrial haplogroup, which is a very ancient lineage, although not part of the cluster of A-B-C-D haplotypes usually theorized as responsible for the peopling of the Americas. X is virtually absent in Siberia and Mongolia today, and its place of emergence is West Asia, or the Levant. Kennewick Man’s specific lineage of X2a is found among certain Native Americans such as Pueblo Indians and the Ojibway but also among Greeks, Lebanese and ancient peoples (as seen in our test Minoans and Mycenaeans). It may not be valid to divide the haplogroup into Old World and New World types. His Y-chromosome belonged to the Q-M3 lineage, which is a specifically Native American branch of the Q lineage, one found in Native Americans and Central Asians.

Code: KWM-13

Ancient DNA Hub Reference: Kennewick Man

Story ID: 10259

Contributing ancient genomes: 1 (Kennewick Man)

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