Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Old Canuck No Kennewick Man Volume 54 Number 5, September/October 2001
by Eric A. Powell

DNA study now under way in British Columbia may link a 500-year-old man with his modern descendants. Popularly known as the "Iceman" or Kwaday Dän Sinchí ("Long Ago Person Found"), the headless body was discovered at the foot of a melting glacier on the border of British Columbia and Yukon in 1999. The Iceman's tribal affiliation is unclear, though his clothing offers tantalizing, if contradictory, clues.

An intricately woven spruce root hat found with the body is in the style of the coastal Tlingit people, many of whom live in what is now Alaska. But the Iceman also wore a robe of gopher fur from the Canadian interior. Pollen found on the robe comes from both the coast and the interior mountains.

Though the inland Champagne and Aishihik First Nations had custody of the body, researchers probing the Iceman's origins in Victoria, British Columbia, are analyzing DNA samples from both them and the Alaskan Tlingit. Results are expected by the end of the year.

The high degree of cooperation between the native groups and scientists studying Kwaday Dän Sinchí contrasts sharply with the seemingly endless Kennewick Man controversy in the Lower 48 (see Book Review). A group of scientists is suing in federal district court to prevent reburial of the 9,500-year-old skeleton, which a coalition of Indian groups claims as an ancestor. At press time, a ruling was still pending, but if the losing side appeals, expect the legal wrangling to last into next year, if not longer.

While the ultimate fate of Kennewick Man's skeleton is up to the judge, the Iceman's remains have already been cremated. This July, during a traditional potlatch feast near the glacier where the remains were found, the Champagne and Aishihik joined with the Tlingit in scattering their ancestor's ashes to the wind.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America