Eske Willeslev: Listening to science; listening with science

Eske Willeslev, the Danish geneticist who led the team that explored the DNA of the Ancient One, aka Kennewick Man, is the director of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen.  Dr. Willerslev and the Center are using ancient DNA to reconstruct the past 50,000 or 70,000 years of human history. His career and mission is outlined in a recent NYT article– http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/17/science/eske-willerslev-ancient-dna-scientist.html?ribbon-ad-idx=3&rref=science&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=U.S.&action=click&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article&_r=0

To remind, the Ancient One was found along the Columbia River in 1996, and the remains, or how to handle the remains, was contested by tribes and some members of the academic community for years. Early attending academics thought that Kennewick man looked, in skull shape particularly, more European than Native American, which brought a rush of theorizing about pre-Bering corridor, European or even Pacific Island, arrivals to the Americas. Northwest American tribal leaders—Umatilla, Colville, Nez Perce, Yakima, and others—argued ancestry and advocated reburial. After much wrangling, the academics won a legal victory and instructions Read The Article

The Ancient One

That is what Tribal people called the skeletal remains that white anthropologists dubbed “Kennewick Man” when he was unearthed along the Columbia in 1996, and quick carbon dating suggested he was 7,500—9,000 years in the ground. They argued that the remains were theirs, and that they should be allowed to rebury them properly.

Some scientists argued otherwise—the archaeologist James Chatters initially described the skull as Caucasian, and produced a reconstruction of his face suggesting that Kennewick Man looked a bit like the actor Patrick Stewart. The scientists mounted a vigorous campaign for more testing and against the Indians favoring reburial. (To be fair, Chatters subsequently changed his mind on the Caucasian idea.)

It all helped fuel a movement suggesting that Indians—Native Americans with Asian genetic connections who had crossed the land bridge tens of thousands of years ago—might not have been alone here. Or even first? Advocates of the “Solutrean hypothesis” held that during the Ice Age anatomically modern humans Read The Article