PRELIMINARY RESULTS: NO LINK
YET TO ANCIENT HUMAN REMAINS
More research needed to find
of Shuká Kaa in Southeast Alaska
January 03, 2009
Preliminary results from DNA research on ancient human remains
discovered in Southeast Alaska did not establish a genetic connection
to potential living descendants from the region. However, scientists
are not ruling out eventually finding a genetic link between
Southeast Natives and the 10,300-year-old man, who was given
the name Shuká Kaa (Man Before Us) by Native people in
September at his burial.
"It is important to note that the mitochondrial DNA test
only addressed direct maternal ancestry," said Washington
State University Molecular Anthropologist Dr. Brian Kemp, lead
researcher for the project. "It is still possible other
DNA markers could connect present-day indigenous Southeastern
Alaskans to Shuká Kaa. However, these were not tested
The results did not rule out a direct connection between Shuká
Kaa and Southeast Natives along the paternal line. However, scientists
know significantly more about mitochondrial DNA, which is passed
through the mother, than they do about DNA in the Y chromosome,
which is passed through the father. Although Y chromosome variation
in some populations, such as among European males, has been fairly
well established, little is known about the diversity in the
Y chromosome in Native American males. Scientists are years away
from being able to deduce relations on the paternal line in Native
men with the precision that is available now on the maternal
side, Kemp said.
Native people anticipated scientists might not find a link through
mitochondrial DNA, said Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage
Institute, which sponsored the research. Before the study, Worl
cautioned in a press release that researchers might not identify
Shuká Kaa's DNA type in people living today because DNA
markers can disappear from small populations very quickly.
"We do know that DNA markers pass out of populations, and
they disappear. It may not be transferred to future generations,
so we know that was a possibility," she said.
More than 230 Native people participated in the study, making
it one of the largest samples ever collected in the Americas,
Kemp said. Native people here participated in greater numbers
because the Native concept of Haa Shágoon (Tlingit),
Íitl' Kuníisii (Haida), and Hlaagigyadm
(Tsimshian) unites Native people to their ancestors and to
future generations, Worl said. However, the DNA marker found
in Shuká Kaa is very rare, so genetic links on the maternal
side might have been found if a larger group of people had participated.
"It was a very rare DNA marker, and actually it's only found
among 1.5% of Native Americans and so it could be our study population
was too small," said Worl.
It's also possible Shuká Kaa represented an older population
and that the people who were tested came from a later group,
said Worl, who wrote a paper on her hypothesis that the Tlingit
population derived from two different populations.
"Our oral traditions always talk about the presence of an
older population being here when they arrived, and the assumption
is that the newer populations and the older populations intermarried,
and the hypothesis is that the Eagles and the Ravens represent
two different populations," she said.
The remains were found in a cave on Prince of Wales Island in
1996. Local tribes from Craig and Klawock authorized scientists
to study the bones after determining they were not associated
with a grave site but scattered in the cave, possibly by scavengers.
It turned out to be one of the more important archaeological
sites found in North America in recent years. Scientists dated
the bones and found them to be the oldest human remains ever
discovered in Alaska and Canada. Kemp and a team of colleagues
extracted DNA and found Shuká Kaa was of Native American
ancestry and carried a very rare mitochondrial DNA type called
Sealaska Heritage Institute sponsored DNA research June 5-7 during
Celebration 2008 in hopes of finding living descendants of Shuká
Kaa in Southeast Alaska. Kemp and his colleague, Kari B. Schroeder
from the University of California, Davis, collected DNA samples
from more than 230 Native people in the form of saliva. The preliminary
results show none of the participants belong to the haplogroup
D and therefore none is related on their direct maternal line
to Shuká Kaa.
Scientists will use the results to also study the genetic variation
among Alaska Natives and other indigenous populations, to learn
about the genetic continuity of populations in Alaska and their
relationships to other indigenous populations and to reconstruct
population history. The preliminary results are already showing
long-distance genetic links among Native people along the coast
from Washington to Southeast Alaska.
The study will not be used for any commercial enterprise or DNA
studies that may adversely affect participants, said Worl, noting
SHI had a hand in writing the consent form to ensure the interests
of Native people were protected.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in
1980 to administer cultural and educational programs for Sealaska
Corporation. The institute is governed by an all-Native Board
of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars.
Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and
Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.
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