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Mystery of the First Americans

Brace Loring Brace
Claims for the Remains
C. Loring Brace
Curator of Biological Anthropology and Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan

The questions "Why do scientists want to study Kennewick Man" and "What would I personally hope to learn from the study of Kennewick Man" are essentially the same from my point of view.

The Kennewick skeleton is one of the oldest and most complete human specimens found in the Western Hemisphere and the only one from the northwest edge of the continent, which was almost certainly close to the route taken by the earliest humans to enter the continent. All the archeological and biological evidence points to a Northeast Asian origin for the original human occupants of the Western Hemisphere, but there is increasing reason to believe that different entrants came at different times and derived from different Asian sources. Who were those sources? When did their offshoots come to the Americas? And which Native Americans are derived from which of those sources? Only by studying the remains of the earliest Americans and comparing them to recent and living Native Americans and to recent Asians can we ever provide answers to these questions.

Cohanim While Cohanim priests can trace their male lineage back several thousand years using Y-chromosome analysis, no one alive today can trace his or her heritage back as far as the 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man.

Just because some government officials claim that any ancient skeleton is Native American by their definition does not justify turning it over to one or more groups of modern Native Americans, who may have no close relationship (or any at all) to the skeleton. The old European-American assumption that "if you've seen one Indian, you've seen them all" is a gross misrepresentation of reality. Although both the Navajo and the Hopi are Native American groups in the American Southwest, when Harvard University returned the burials from Pecos Pueblo that had been in the Peabody Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it did not turn those skeletons over to the Navajo but only to Pueblo groups related to the Hopi, because in that particular case, the historical knowledge of who was related to whom was known. In the case of Kennewick, however, such information is not known.

In Polynesia, oral traditions preserve a general knowledge of population relationships going back some 2,000 years. Where written records are kept, one can trace actual relationships back even further than that, as with the descendants of Confucius. Y-chromosome records have shown the continuity of the Cohanim, the Jewish priesthood, via the founding priests of migrant Jewish settlements. But none of these forms of evidence goes back as far in time as the date of Kennewick Man or the roots of the initial settlers in the New World. If we simply bury the evidence, we will never be able to answer the questions of origins and relationships.

Does Race Exist? | Meet Kennewick Man
Claims for the Remains | The Dating Game | Resources
Transcript | Site Map | Mystery of the First Americans Home

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