Scientists Fight University of California to Study Rare Ancient Skeletons

Rex Dalton, Wired Science, May 20, 2011 |

Two ancient skeletons uncovered in 1976 on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, during construction at the home of a University of California chancellor, may be among the most valuable for genetic analysis in the continental United States. Dated between 9,000 and 9,600 years old, the exceptionally preserved bones could potentially produce the oldest complete human genome from the continent.

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Attempts to unlock the skeletons’ genetic secrets are stalled in a dispute pitting UC scientists against their own administration. Five of the scientists wrote with alarm in a letter published May 20 in the journal Science that UC administrators aren’t allowing studies on the skeletons, which were discovered on property owned by UC San Diego in La Jolla, California.

Before samples can be extracted for genetic analysis, the scientists fear administrators will give the bones to politically powerful local Native Americans who could permanently block study.

“To give them away without study, would be like throwing the genetic crown jewels of the peopling of the Americas in the ocean,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who is among about a half dozen researchers who have unsuccessfully sought in recent months to sample or study the bones{snip}

A few studies were done years ago on the skeletons before UC withdrew access to them, but recent technological advances would allow scientists to do much more, including a digital skull calibration and possibly a full genome sequence.

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UC officials are seeking to provide the skeletons to the Kumeyaay Nation east of San Diego under a complex process guided by the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). But critical scientists say NAGPRA requirements aren’t being followed properly, setting the stage for a potential legal battle over the bones.

“This is Kennewick Man II,” White said, referring to the long federal court battle in 2004 when scientists won the right to study bones found in Washington.

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Steve Benegas, the repatriation spokesman for the Kumeyaay nation’s 12 tribes, said they are entitled to the bones and to decide about future analysis. Some Native Americans believe scientific research amounts to desecration of remains, and Benegas said he personally is against studies.

“The university has handled this poorly over the years,” he said. “We have no trust in them. They have treated the remains of our ancestors without respect.”

One of the previous analyses done years ago showed the bones have connective tissue and amino acids that are used in cell function. This means it is very likely ancient DNA can be extracted. And two skeletons buried together offers a rare opportunity to compare their genomes to see if they were related.

Genetic reports on human remains this old on the continent are very limited. In 2007, researchers published about 7 percent of the maternally inherited mitochondrial genome of bones found in a cave in southeast Alaska that are about the same age as the La Jolla skeletons. But the full genome of that individual hasn’t been sequenced and published, and DNA from bones found in wet caves can be more difficult to extract and analyze.

“The La Jolla skeletons are very special,” said Brian Kemp of Washington State University. Kemp was part of a team that retrieved samples from the Alaska bones before they were repatriated in 2007 to local tribes in an exchange seen as model of cooperation among scientists and Native Americans.

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Scientists say UC is overlooking two key points. First, there has been no official determination the bones are actually from ancestors of modern Native Americans. Though many tribes believe their history goes further back, scientists can only confidently trace the ancestry of Native Americans to about 7,000 years ago.

Second, scientific evidence shows skeletons around this age are not always related to those who now live near burial sites. For example, last year Willerslev sequenced the genome of a 5,000-year-old man in Greenland and found he was descended from Siberian ancestors, not today’s Greenland tribes.

“It is unscientific to provide them to local people,” said Willerslev.

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UCSD scientists determined the La Jolla skeletons are not culturally affiliated to any tribe. In fact, isotopic analysis done 30 years ago in Schoeninger’s lab (and published in 2009) showed the bones reflected a diet of seafood and marine mammals, not terrestrial foods such as nuts and wild fruits like the early Kumeyaay ate.

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  • Whiteplight

    “The university has handled this poorly over the years,” he said. “We have no trust in them. They have treated the remains of our ancestors without respect.”

    This is actually a statement of racial superiority. No one’s bones today can be accorded this sort of precious honoring, yet Amerinds claim this special sacredness as an super-racial right every time. What this is really all about is that they fear what studies might reveal; Namely, that the bones might belong to non-racially homogeneous humans, and perhaps might turn out to be Asians, or even, gasp – whites! But any deviation from their DNA could cause a reassessment of their claim to aboriginal claim, and reveal them as later immigrants that displaced, perhaps even exterminated the actual indigenous people. Human history goes way,way back. I wouldn’t be surprised if time revealed much more movement on the continents before they became as separated as they are today. Whites from Africa, earliest on these lands, it could turn out that way. Then the debate would have to turn to final destiny models.

  • nokangaroos

    – Austrian anthropologists are still jumping up and down about the “men in the salt”, perfectly conserved prehistoric miners. Finds 1573 and 1616 Dürrnstein/Hallein (both publicly displayed “until they started to rot”). The most interesting one was found 1734 in Hallstatt (early Bronze Age, one of my professors referred to him as “pickled Celt”) but was swiftly given a Christian burial. None of their remains are still availible.

    So, I would say it would be criminal to withhold these skeletons from science. The isotopes are interesting, giving credence to the hypothesis that at least one wave of immigrants did not cross the Bering bridge on foot and followed the ice-free corridor just east of the coast range but worked their way down the coastline.

    – The hysteria of the First Nations at the remnants of someones who definitely were not their ancestors I can only interpret as fear of having their “First” challenged.

  • Anonymous

    Just a thought but imagine they where found to be white,that would certainly ruffle some feathers,lol

  • Jeddermann.

    Kennewick Man II. And the end of that episode was? Was the remains ever tested for DNA and the results were found to be? I never heard. The inference is obvious. This American Indian tribal group is afraid that the bones and the DNA will be found to be whitey. A people that thousands of years before had crossed the Atlantic according to the Solutrean Hypothesis and made it to North American, following the pack ice, hunting seal and living then as does an Eskimo who follows the ancient ways does today. AFRAID!

    It is actually NOT an uncommon phenomenon and has been the case for a century or more that the scientists come across such remains of what appears to be a whitey, ancient, but they just classify as an American Indian, NOT wanting to do better, leave the applecart alone and do not upset. Too much politics involved.

    The truth is perhaps out there, not a 100 % certainty, but even that prospect is too grim for some.

  • Madison Grant

    Why would American Indians want to rebury 9,000 year old bones rather than let scientists study them? There are two possibilities:

    1. They really are a race of stone age primitives

    2. They fear the bones belonged to a European and they want to destroy the evidence

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    Some Native Americans believe scientific research amounts to desecration of remains, and Benegas said he personally is against studies.

    Nonsense.

    They’re terrified that the bones might turn out to be those of a WHITE and might call into question as to WHO were the first people to inhabit N. America.

    This isn’t the first time Native Americans have laid claim to ANY ancient bones found in N. America:

    The Spirit Cave Mummy found in Nevada: tests showed that the corpse was 9,400 years old – a 45-55 year old male – and, most importantly, not an ancestor of any modern Indian tribe.

    The Spirit Cave Mummy’s White racial traits are undeniable – the mummy has a long, small face, and a large cranium, in sharp contrast to the Mongoloid features of American Indians. American Indians demanded that the corpse be reburied in accordance with tribal custom – falsely claiming the Spirit Cave Mummy as one of their own….As part of the legal wrangling, the Paiute have consistently refused to allow DNA testing of the corpse.

    In 1993 another skeleton was found near Buhl in the state of Idaho. The remains were some 10,600 years old, making them the oldest ever found in North America. The skeleton was turned over to local Indians, the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, and reburied before any comprehensive testing could be undertaken.

    For more information see here: Lost White Settlements

    http://goo.gl/MHOSo

    Bon

  • SunnyvaleSal

    I am surprised that anyone at UC is putting science before political correctness. Hope they get to study the skeletons!

  • patthemick

    I wonder what the native Americans are worried about? It seems to me that if they are caucasian so what. No one is going to try to prove that that gives whites any escape from the guilt of wiping out their ancestors.

  • Turtle

    Let us be fair. The skeletons may turn out to be Asiatic. Or not. It’s the, or not, that the leftists can’t chance. Real science, in the biological sciences, are at the mercy of the Marxist PC crowd. Anything that violates the taboo causes them to double down on the official PC line. Kennewick Man is a rebuttal that they can’t allow to be re-enforced with additional additional evidence.

  • Duran Dahl

    There is an increasing body of evidence supporting the theory that our white European ancestors settled North America circa the last ice age, well-before the Amerinds crossed the Bering Straits. The ubiquity of European mitochondrial DNA in the Amerind genome suggests that our male ancestors were murdered and their women-folk taken as concubines. All of this is important because it means that the white man did not “take” America from the Amerinds, they took it BACK! Race wars are not played by Earl of Queensbury rules, one group kills the other. They won round one, we won round two. There will not be a round three.

  • sedonaman

    SunnyvaleSal:

    Re: “I am surprised that anyone at UC is putting science before political correctness.”

    You are? The mission of the academy is no longer the pursuit of truth but political advocacy.

  • Bubba

    It makes sense that Whites would be the first to the Americas – Whites have a history of, if not a genetic disposition for, exploration and travelling far and wide.

    Unfortunately, it was probably a small group of Whites that broke away and made it to the Americas…only to be wiped out later by large migrations of non-White Asiatics that became today’s Amerindians.

    The pattern of a White group breaking away and moving into new lands, and then later being wiped out by a mass migration of non-Whites has repeated itself throughout history, and is still happening today.

    White flight has always been the norm…

  • Anonymous

    They’re afraid the results may turn out to be an inconvenient “hate truth”. Can anyone suggest a book about the movement of people around the globe, genetics, ethnicity, etc. I’m fascinated by this. Where did the Australian aboriginals come from? They’re a very unsuccessful people now but I find it fascinating that they were able to sail to Australia, if that’s what they did. Any information about these things would be appreciated.

  • Jeddermann.

    “The ubiquity of European mitochondrial DNA in the Amerind genome suggests that our male ancestors were murdered and their women-folk taken as concubines. All of this is important because it means that the white man did not “take” America from the Amerinds, they took it BACK!”

    Right, whitey did not steal anything, he just took back what was his in the first place. That is the reasonable inference?

    And that DNA, ancient whitey, found most of all in the Chippewa and Sioux American Indian, is all female mitrochondrial which DOES suggest all the men were killed in battle and only the women remained and taken as concubines, YES!

    If you are a Sioux [Lakota] or Chippewa, let us hear from you on this. Please respond. What do your shamans tell you about this? We whitey would like to know too.

  • Anonymous

    Could very well be some kind of Asian or pacific islander ended up in California.

  • Anonymous

    “The ubiquity of European mitochondrial DNA in the Amerind genome suggests that our male ancestors were murdered and their women-folk taken as concubines. ”

    That is the commonly accepted explanation of what happened to the Roanoke colony.

  • Anonymous

    Ever read the book “America B.C. Ancient Settlers by Barry Fell?

    He relates a lot of evidence that White Europeans arrived in America tens of thousands of years ago and mixed with the later asian arrivals who arrived allegedly across the Bering Strait.

    He cites the huge amount of European DNA in American Indians. He says that amount of DNA cannot be explained by the intermarriage that went on after 1600 in North America and after 1500 in S. America.

  • Anonymous

    Look at Western Africa and Brazil. They are not that far apart.

    In the North, especially during the ice age there could have been a land or land and short sea trip way from Norway to Iceland to Greenland to islands off Canada. Even today, there is an overland route from Norway to Canada over the ice.

    Most historians agree that fishermen from Western England especially around Bristol and Britiany France went to islands off the coast of Canada long before Columbus. Fishermen have a habit of keeping good fishing grounds secret.

    Like others, I am totally shocked that even one UC scientist thinks science and truth is more important than anti White racism and political correctness. I wonder if the scientits will be forced to back down and apologize because of threats of losing their jobs. Certainly they will never get promoted.

    I went to UC Santa Barbara. My biology teacher, a milk White skinned redhead from Minnesota actually said “blonde hair and blue eyes are mutations and the sooner they are bred out the better.” The redheaded biologist was a woman naturally.

  • Flytrap

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZ5wneUSOM4

    Good video on the subject.

  • Savvy

    “I went to UC Santa Barbara. My biology teacher, a milk White skinned redhead from Minnesota actually said “blonde hair and blue eyes are mutations and the sooner they are bred out the better.” The redheaded biologist was a woman naturally.”

    …………………..

    A more pathetic, self-hating statement I’ve rarely read. But not surprising.

    Btw, were not all developments that created the human species “mutations”? Without them, we’d still be swinging in the treetops by our tails. (You should have asked your biology teacher that!)

  • White Guy In Japan

    “blonde hair and blue eyes are mutations and the sooner they are bred out the better.”

    Not only self-hating, but quite wrong from a scientific prepsective. Dark skin is an adaptation to the climate of Africa, narrower eyes of Asians to the blinding sun of the northern areas and white skin and protruding noses are adaptations for white people to absorb more sunlight and get more oxygen from northern climates of Europe.

    Mutations? Fortuitious adaptations so humans could survive in the various climates of the Earth. Reminds me of all the white-bashing anthropology professors I listened to as an undergrad.