Washington State University molecular anthropologist
Brian Kemp will travel to Southeast Alaska to try to find living descendants of the ancient remains of a 10,300 year-old man found in 1996 in the On Your Knees Cave on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Kemp will be collecting DNA samples of volunteer tribal members June 5-7 during the Celebration 2008 held in Juneu, Alaska.

Native people who want to participate will sign a consent form authorizing use of their genetic material for the study. Scientists will collect DNA by swabbing the inside of participants’ cheeks. The identities of the participants will remain anonymous.

The results will also be used by Kemp and his team to study the genetic variation among Alaska Natives and other indigenous populations, to learn about the genetic continuity of populations in Alaska, their relationships to other indigenous populations and to reconstruct population history.

In previous studies, Kemp linked the remains’ DNA to those of Native people living in areas from California to South America. The Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) Council of Traditional Scholars and its Celebration Committee authorized the DNA study to determine if the On Your Knees Cave man is also related to Southeast Alaska Natives.

Rosita Worl, SHI’s president, cautioned that the study may not identify any DNA markers in people living today because DNA disappears from populations very quickly. The absence of a match would not mean a connection does not exist; it may mean too much time has passed to establish a connection through DNA testing, she said.

“Mitochondrial DNA is only one genetic marker,” Kemp said. “The absence of a direct maternal connection does not mean that they are not related to the On Your Knees Cave remains, as there could be a connection in their nuclear DNA.”

The SHI is sponsoring the sample collection conducted by Kemp and a team of colleges, including Cara Monroe, from the WSU School of Biological Sciences, and Kari Schroeder, from UC Davis. Kemp will analyze the data at WSU. “One of my goals is to find support to have a few tribal members conduct some of the research in my lab at WSU,” said Kemp.

“The Native peoples contacted me to study their genetic ancestry, which demonstrates that they are eager to learn how DNA can complement their understanding of their history and relationships to other Native American populations. 

“The agreement of the tribes in SE Alaska to allow the genetic study with the On Your Knees Cave remains was certainly ground breaking and stands in strong contrast to the situation revolving around the study of the Kennewick Man remains. Now, these same tribes have agreed to take the next step in exploring their genetic heritage,” he said.

Kemp’s research has been featured by Discover Magazine as one of the 100 top science stories of 2007 . He was able to extract DNA from a tooth from the Prince of Wales Island remains and produced the oldest sample of human genetic material from the American continents ever examined.

Links:
Kemp’s Web site: http://www.libarts.wsu.edu/anthro/faculty/kemp.html
Other WSU news releases and stories about Kemp: http://www.wsunews.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=11633&PageID=&ReferrerCode=uggc%3A%2F%2Fjjj%2Ejfharjf%2Ejfh%2Erqh%2Fcntrf%2Ffrnepu%2Enfc, http://www.wsutoday.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=4604&PageID=&ReferrerCode=uggc%3A%2F%2Fjjj%2Ejfhgbqnl%2Ejfh%2Erqh%2Fcntrf%2Ffrnepu%2Enfc

SHI: www.sealaskaheritage.org