It’s no secret that I find young-earth scenarios to be anathema. I also find political thinking with regard to archaeology and ancient remains reprehensible, religious thinking as well.  

While living in the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco, Kennewick), Will Thomas and David Deacy found a skull in the Columbia River at Columbia Park while attending the annual hydroplane races. The young men hid the skull, completed the race day, then went and turned it over to the police. (I’ll pass no judgement.) The police investigated, and the coroner realized the remains were not recent and called on James C. Chatters. He initially supposed an early settler to the area, then radiocarbon dates came back at about 9,600 years. Amino acid decay analysis supports that dating. I’ve failed to find appropriate references, so mostly from memory, here is my version of the story. I will appreciate any corrections provided in comments. I will update accordingly.

Liberals and progressives like to call conservatives antiscience, but about the most antiscience act of our times was the treatment of the Kennewick man. Bill Clinton was President, and Algore probably lead the charge. Janet Reno’s name was bandied. Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary was a key player as I recall. I also recall EPA’s Carol Browner mentioned. This level of involvement alone should indicate how political this was. O’Leary’s name is most prominent in my recollection, but, again, efforts to dig up references on the internet have failed. Gore was gangbusters about breaching dams (removing hydroelectric power) through the 1990s, and this find on the Columbia was politically embarrassing for the US Army Corp of Engineers, the Department of Energy, and to all the enviros, especially Algore. By the way, if you want to save the salmon, taking down dams won’t help. If you want to save the salmon, stop eating them.

So, we have a 10,000 year old skeleton, and the tribes immediately claim ownership of the remains, asserting that according to their mythology (more specifically, their religion), anyone in the area that long ago had to be one of their ancestors. Not so, say the researchers, this man had no characteristics that tie him to the tribes. (See reference below.) Of course, this being the political hot-potato that it was, the PTBs immediately swung into action, confiscated the bones, treated them atrociously, at least from a scientific (and chain-of-custody) standpoint, treated the researchers with contempt, and the US Army Corp of Engineers proceeded to bury the entire site of the find. To make matters worse, they planted trees over everything. Despicable and dastardly. I blame it on President Clinton, but Algore certainly had his hand in it.

The knowledge potential associated with the find is incalculable. We are learning from it, after all the political and legal wrangling, but so much was lost. So much was deliberately, and needlessly, destroyed and obfuscated. The loss is totally unrecoverable and unjustifiable.

Also note that the tribes are still fighting. They somehow think that after being buried in the mud of the Columbia for nearly 10,000 years, they really, really need to hurry and give him a proper burial, complete with tobacco, in order for his spirit to finally be at rest. Regardless, what is the hurry? Also, should our courts be adjudicating between religions? That is really what the tribes are arguing.

So, what prompted my tirade above was this reference, “The skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as “the Mal’ta child” because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.”

I’m wondering where the kid was from, so I’m trying to figure it out, but no dice. North of Mongolia, somewhere. The TA&M video has a dot on a map west of Irkutsk. Anyway, 24,000 years ago this poor kids died. Of course, I don’t feel too sorry for him. He’d have died back then even if he’d made it several more years. Anyway, the researches managed to extract useful DNA from his arm, and they are surprised.

“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, Czech Republic and even Germany. We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe.”

Provides some answers, but raises more questions. The article mentions Kennewick man, but I don’t see much potential for connection.

I suggest this is more reason to hold truth in the highest regard. No religious or mythical truth can contradict the facts. Sure, we poor humans can get the facts wrong, but truth will out. If we stay honest, determined, and committed to the facts and truth, we will continue to advance in our knowledge, and hopefully in our understanding and maturity as people.

Here is the Texas A&M link. There is a short video. Otherwise, not much extra.

The abstract from Nature:

The origins of the First Americans remain contentious. Although Native Americans seem to be genetically most closely related to east Asians1, 2, 3, there is no consensus with regard to which specific Old World populations they are closest to4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Here we sequence the draft genome of an approximately 24,000-year-old individual (MA-1), from Mal’ta in south-central Siberia9, to an average depth of 1×. To our knowledge this is the oldest anatomically modern human genome reported to date. The MA-1 mitochondrial genome belongs to haplogroup U, which has also been found at high frequency among Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic European hunter-gatherers10, 11, 12, and the Y chromosome of MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and near the root of most Native American lineages5. Similarly, we find autosomal evidence that MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and genetically closely related to modern-day Native Americans, with no close affinity to east Asians. This suggests that populations related to contemporary western Eurasians had a more north-easterly distribution 24,000 years ago than commonly thought. Furthermore, we estimate that 14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population. This is likely to have occurred after the divergence of Native American ancestors from east Asian ancestors, but before the diversification of Native American populations in the New World. Gene flow from the MA-1 lineage into Native American ancestors could explain why several crania from the First Americans have been reported as bearing morphological characteristics that do not resemble those of east Asians2, 13. Sequencing of another south-central Siberian, Afontova Gora-2 dating to approximately 17,000 years ago14, revealed similar autosomal genetic signatures as MA-1, suggesting that the region was continuously occupied by humans throughout the Last Glacial Maximum. Our findings reveal that western Eurasian genetic signatures in modern-day Native Americans derive not only from post-Columbian admixture, as commonly thought, but also from a mixed ancestry of the First Americans.

Journal Reference:

  1. Maanasa Raghavan, Pontus Skoglund, Kelly E. Graf, Mait Metspalu, Anders Albrechtsen, Ida Moltke, Simon Rasmussen, Thomas W. Stafford Jr, Ludovic Orlando, Ene Metspalu, Monika Karmin, Kristiina Tambets, Siiri Rootsi, Reedik Mägi, Paula F. Campos, Elena Balanovska, Oleg Balanovsky, Elza Khusnutdinova, Sergey Litvinov, Ludmila P. Osipova, Sardana A. Fedorova, Mikhail I. Voevoda, Michael DeGiorgio, Thomas Sicheritz-Ponten, Søren Brunak, Svetlana Demeshchenko, Toomas Kivisild, Richard Villems, Rasmus Nielsen, Mattias Jakobsson, Eske Willerslev. Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native AmericansNature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12736