| 5 September 2014
Kennewick Man looked Polynesian and came from far away
Kennewick Man died 9,000 years ago in the Columbia River Valley of northwestern North America, a seal hunter who rambled far and wide with a projectile point lodged in his hip, five broken ribs that never healed properly, two small dents in his skull and a bad shoulder from throwing spears. He came from somewhere far up the Pacific Northwest coast, possibly Alaska or the Aleutian Islands. He might even have come all the way from Asia.
So say the editors of a 688-page peer-reviewed book, "Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton," that will be published this autumn.
"He could have been an Asian," says co-editor Richard Jantz, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, USA. "One of the things we always tend to do is underestimate the mobility of early people." His co-editor, Douglas Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, agrees with that assessment of Kennewick Man: "He was a long-distance traveler."
The book, which includes contributions from more than five dozen authors, researchers and photographers, describes many kinds of research on the skeleton, which was discovered in 1996.
The chemical analysis of the molecular isotopes in the bones and the clues they provide to Kennewick Man's origin suggests he lived off a diet of seals and other large marine mammals and drank glacier melt water. His wide-set body is akin to that generally seen in cold-adapted human populations.
Kennewick Man's skull is large and narrow with a projecting face, and doesn't look like the skulls of later Native Americans. Its dimensions most closely match those of Polynesians, specifically the inhabitants of the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand. According to the scientists, Kennewick Man and today's Polynesians - as well as the prehistoric Jomon and contemporary Ainu of northern Japan - have a common ancestry among a coastal Asian population.
Genetic evidence points to a common ancestry among Native Americans to a population that remained isolated for a long period of time in the now-drowned land known as Beringia, and that then migrated, possibly in several pulses, after the ice sheets began to recede.
Edited from The Washington Post (25 August 2014)
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