The Kennewick Man: solving a scientific controversy

A 8,500 year old male skeleton discovered in 1996 in Columbia River in Washington State has been the focus of a bitter dispute between Native Americans and American scientists, and even within the American scientific community. Craniometric analysis showed that Kennewick Man, as the skeleton was named, resembled populations in Japan, Polynesia or even Europe, suggesting he was not ancestral to Native Americans, a finding that helped block Native Americans’ request for a repatriation of the skeleton. A new study based on his genome sequence shows that Kennewick Man is in fact more closely related to modern Native Americans, than to any other population worldwide and, further, that the earlier craniometrics analyses cannot be supported. The study was led by the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen and is published online today in Nature.

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Leader of the DNRF Center for GeoGenetics, professor Eske Willerslev says:

“Comparing the genome sequence of Kennewick Man to genome wide data of contemporary human populations across the world clearly shows that Native Americans of today are his closest living relatives. Our study further shows that members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation that belongs to the Claimant Plateau tribes of the Pacific Northwest, who originally claimed him as their ancestor, is one of the groups showing close affinities to Kennewick Man or at least to the population to which he belonged.”


The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture i Seattle is oppointed by the court to safe keep the remains of Kennewick Man, known as the Ancient One among indians. The museum doesn’t exhibit the Kennewick Man, but it has been safekeeping the remains since 1998. (Foto: Richard Brown Photography).
The results of the project comes from a large international cooperation between researchers affiliated with Center for GeoGenetics, The Bioinformatics Centre at University of Copenhagen, Stanford University, University of Zurich, La Trobe University in Melbourne, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the AMS 14C Dating Centre at Aarhus University, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and University of California, Berkeley.

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