History

Kennewick Man to Receive Native American Burial

The decision was based upon review and analysis of new information, in particular a DNA study and skeletal analyses published last year.

Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and best-preserved skeletons ever found in North America, is related to modern Native American tribes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday, possibly closing a debate that lasted 20 years.

The corps, which owns and has custody of the remains, said the 8,500-year-old bones are now covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, opening the process to return Kennewick Man to tribes for Native American burial.

The decision was based upon review and analysis of new information, in particular a DNA study and skeletal analyses published last year in the journal Nature.

DNA Links 8,500-Year-Old Kennewick Man to Native Tribes

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Stanford University School of Medicine used the latest in DNA isolation and sequencing techniques to analyze the genetic material in a bone sample.

They concluded that, although it is impossible to assign Kennewick Man to a particular tribe, he is closely related to members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington.

The results challenged a 2014 study that assumed, based on anatomical data, that Kennewick Man was more related to indigenous Japanese or Polynesian peoples than to Native Americans.

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Earlier this month scientists from the University of Chicago, independently validated the genetic study published in Nature.

"We concur with the findings of the original paper that the sample is genetically closer to modern Native Americans than to any other population worldwide," John Novembre, David Witonsky, and Anna Di Rienzo of Chicago University wrote.

The validated DNA and skeletal analyses prompted Army Brig. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commander of the corps' Northwestern Division to put to an end a decade-long debate over the skeleton's origins.

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"I find that there is substantial evidence to determine that Kennewick Man is related to modern Native Americans from the United States," Spellmon ruled.

The skeletal remains were discovered in 1996 along the shores of the Columbia River in Washington state. The finding prompted a legal, spiritual and scientific dispute between scientists, who wanted to study the bones, and Native Americans, who claimed Kennewick Man as an ancestor and called him the Ancient One.

The court battle began with a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by eight scientists seeking access to study the bones.

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In February 2004, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the anthropologists, concluding that "a significant relationship of the tribal claimants with Kennewick Man" could not be proved.

Reburial requests were halted to allow further investigation into the skeleton's origins.

Legally the property of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as they were found on land under its custody, the remains of Kennewick Man are locked away at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, where they were deposited in 1998.

"At present, there has been no decision to transfer the remains," Spellmon said.

Photos: Faces of Our Ancestors

He added the corps will now review custody possibilities. It won't be an easy task to determine which of the five tribes that in the past declared a connection to the Ancient One - the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Wanapum - has the strongest claim.

To expedite the burial, it is expected the tribes will collaborate and send a joint request.

"Obviously we are hearing an acknowledgment from the Corps of what we have been saying for 20 years," JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, told the Seattle Times.

"Now we want to collectively do what is right, and bring our relative back for reburial," he added.

This sculpted bust of Kennewick Man by StudioEIS is based on forensic facial reconstruction by sculptor Amanda Danning.

Back in the Beginning

To put a human face on our ancestors, scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute used sophisticated methods to form 27 model heads based on tiny bone fragments, teeth and skulls collected from across the globe. The heads are on display for the first time together at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. This model is Sahelanthropus tchadensis, also nicknamed "Toumai," who lived 6.8 million years ago. Parts of its jaw bone and teeth were found nine years ago in the Djurab desert in Chad. It's one of the oldest hominid specimens ever found.

Australopithecus afarensis

With each new discovery, paleoanthropologists have to rewrite the origins of man's ancestors, adding on new branches and tracking when species split. This model was fashioned from pieces of a skull and jaw found among the remains of 17 pre-humans (nine adults, three adolescents and five children) which were discovered in the Afar Region of Ethiopia in 1975. The ape-man species, Australopithecus afarensis, is believed to have lived 3.2 million years ago. Several more bones from this species have been found in Ethiopia, including the famed "Lucy," a nearly complete A. afarensis skeleton found in Hadar.

Australopithecus africanus

Meet "Mrs. Ples," the popular nickname for the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus, unearthed in Sterkfontein, South Africa in 1947. It is believed she lived 2.5 million years ago (although the sex of the fossil is not entirely certain). Crystals found on her skull suggest that she died after falling into a chalk pit, which was later filled with sediment. A. africanus has long puzzled scientists because of its massive jaws and teeth, but they now believe the species' skull design was optimal for cracking nuts and seeds.

Paranthropus aethiopicus

The skull of this male adult was found on the western shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya in 1985. The shape of the mouth indicates that he had a strong bite and could chew plants. He is believed to have lived in 2.5 million years ago and is classified as Paranthropus aethiopicus. Much is still unknown about this species because so few reamins of P. aethiopicus have been found.

Paranthropus boisei

Researchers shaped this skull of "Zinj," found in 1959. The adult male lived 1.8 million years ago in the Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania. His scientific name is Paranthropus boisei, though he was originally called Zinjanthropus boisei -- hence the nickname. First discovered by anthropologist Mary Leakey, the well-preserved cranium has a small brain cavity. He would have eaten seeds, plants and roots which he probably dug with sticks or bones.

Homo rudolfensis

This model of a sub-human species -- Homo rudolfensis -- was made from bone fragments found in Koobi Fora, Kenya, in 1972. The adult male is believed to have lived about 1.8 million years ago. He used stone tools and ate meat and plants. H. Rudolfensis' distinctive features include a flatter, broader face and broader postcanine teeth, with more complex crowns and roots. He is also recognized as having a larger cranium than his contemporaries.

Homo ergaster

The almost perfectly preserved skeleton of the "Turkana Boy" is one of the most spectacular discoveries in paleoanthropology. Judging from his anatomy, scientists believe this Homo ergaster was a tall youth about 13 to 15 years old. According to research, the boy died beside a shallow river delta, where he was covered by alluvial sediments. Comparing the shape of the skull and teeth, H. ergaster had a similiar head structure to the Asian Homo erectus.

Homo heidelbergensis

This adult male, Homo heidelbergensis, was discovered in in Sima de los Huesos, Spain in 1993. Judging by the skull and cranium, scientists believe he probably died from a massive infection that caused a facial deformation. The model, shown here, does not include the deformity. This species is believed to be an ancestor of Neanderthals, as seen in the shape of his face. "Miquelon," the nickname of "Atapuerca 5", lived about 500,000 to 350,000 years ago and fossils of this species have been found in Italy, France and Greece.

Homo neanderthalensis

The "Old Man of La Chapelle" was recreated from the skull and jaw of a Homo neanderthalensis male found near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France in 1908. He lived 56,000 years ago. His relatively old age, thought to be between 40 to 50 years old, indicates he was well looked after by a clan. The old man's skeleton indicates he suffered from a number of afflictions, including arthritis, and had numerous broken bones. Scientists at first did not realize the age and afflicted state of this specimen when he was first discovered. This led them to incorrectly theorize that male Neanderthals were hunched over when they walked.

Homo floresiensis

The skull and jaw of this female "hobbit" was found in Liang Bua, Flores, Indonesia, in 2003. She was about 1 meter tall (about 3'3") and lived about 18,000 years ago. The discovery of her species, Homo floresiensis, brought into question the belief that Homo sapiens was the only form of mankind for the past 30,000 years. Scientists are still debating whether Homo floresiensis was its own species, or merely a group of diseased modern humans. Evidence is mounting that these small beings were, in fact, a distinct human species.

Homo sapiens

Bones can only tell us so much. Experts often assume or make educated guesses to fill in the gaps in mankind's family tree, and to develop a sense what our ancestors may have looked like. Judging from skull and mandible fragments found in a cave in Israel in 1969, this young female Homo sapien lived between 100,000 and 90,000 years ago. Her bones indicate she was about 20 years old. Her shattered skull was found among the remains of 20 others in a shallow grave.