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Go east, Kennewick Man.

An approximately 8,400-year-old skeleton, discovered in Washington State in 1996, quickly gained renown for having a skull more reminiscent of Europeans than of Native Americans or their presumed northeastern Asian ancestors. Like a number of other ancient human finds in North and South America, the individual dubbed Kennewick Man didn't look like a New World pioneer was supposed to look.

New studies, however, support the traditional view that early settlers of the Americas--including Kennewick Man--hailed from Asia, not Europe. The sites of origin and the number and timing of their migrations remain controversial.

"There was lots of anatomical variation in the teeth and skulls of ancient New World inhabitants," says Joseph E Powell of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. "But in those features, they looked more like later northeast Asians and Polynesians than like Europeans or Native Americans."

Powell compared cranial and dental measures for 37 New World "paleoindian" finds placed at between 8,000 and 11,700 years old, 938 "archaic" New World specimens dating back a few thousand years, and samples of modern humans from around the world.

Paleoindians resembled the archaic group but displayed marked differences from modern populations, Powell contends. The wide range of anatomical variation in the small paleoindian sample also appeared in random samples of similar size drawn from modern populations, he maintains.

Evolutionary changes that transpired after one or more groups reached the New World could have created the anatomical gulf between paleoindians and modern Native Americans, Powell theorizes.

A related study, directed by Jeff C. Long of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., finds that Native Americans living in North America exhibit a pattern of genetic diversity reflecting Asian, but not European, origins.

The researchers assessed frequencies of 28 gene variants in 12 Native American groups, one Swedish sample, and one Chinese sample. A statistical analysis indicated that Native American DNA patterns arose solely in Asia. European genetic input probably began after Native American contacts with Columbus and other explorers, Long says.
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Title Annotation:studies show that skeleton found in Washington descended from Asia, not Europe
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 15, 1999
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