Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kennewick Man, Ainus and Sunda

Two men were walking along the bank of the Columbia River in Washington, U.S. on July 28, 1996 when they came across a human skull, they quickly notified the autorities who inspected the area and, after a thorough search, managed to recover an almost complete skeleton, belonging to a man. This is how the "Kennewick Man" remains were discovered.

An initial inspection by an archaeologist [3] concluded that the man was not a Native American because the skull had a "caucasoid" appearance. A bone sample was sent to a laboratory and dated. We now know that these remains are between 8,000 and 9,500 years old. Which, by American standards is very ancient.

An act of Congress, The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed in 1990 with the goal of redressing the evils of the past, when Native American graves were profanated and their bones stolen and placed in Museums. The good intentions behind this legislation (which sought to return these remains to their original resting places in their tribal communities), has been distorted by the very extreme view held by some Native groups which are against any studies conducted on Paleo-Indian remains.

Actually most "modern" Native communities are relativley recent arrivals to their traditional tribal territories none go back more than one or two thousand years at most. Yet, they will go to court and in most cases succeed to get remains that date back thousands of years returned to "their homeland". In many cases the only link between the Paleoindians and the modern natives is the land where the remains were found.

Kennewick man was no exception, in 1996 some native groups took a hard stand and went to court to stop any further studies on his remains. Native American groups and the Federal Government of the U.S. combined their resources against the scientists who wanted to learn as much as possible from these extremely valuable ancient remains.

The legal battle took 8 years. In 1998 Kennewick man's bones were sent to the Burke Museum (Washington state) to protect them until the lawsuit was settled. They are still safeguarded at the Museum. [1]

The case was heard by a U.S. District Court which found that the remains could not be classified as "Native American". His ruling was appealed and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 2004. So the remains, which were found on Federal land, are now in custody of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will remain so indefintely unless the Natives can somehwo prove in the future that Kennewick was a Native American. [1]

What have we learnt from the remains?

The remains comprise an almost complete skeleton (only some bones from hands and feet and the sternum are missing) which belonged to a tall man (about 1.73 m - 5.67 ft.) between 40 and 55 years old.

Although his DNA was intact, the tests were done on two samples but were inconclusive! (more on this below).

He had the broken off remains of a flint leaf-shaped serrated projectile stuck in his right ilium (hip bone). The wound was partly healed and the stone spear tip was quite large: 20 x 54 mm (0.78 x 2.12 in), [2] however, "The extensive amount of bone that has grown around the stone point suggests that the point was in place for a considerable amount of time and was not the cause of death." [3]

The surprising part is the skull, the cranial index marks it as dolichocephalic (long and narrow skull) instead of bracycephalic (short and wide skull) as found among the modern Natives. His face was narrow instead of broad and had a pronounced chin. This and other features gave him a "caucasoid" appearance. Yet, surprisingly his teeth were Sundadont like those found among South Asians. [2]

A clay facial reconstruction gives him a very "Caucasian" look indeed, [6] below is another view of this Kennewick man's face: [7]

facial reconstruction Kennewick man
Facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man. From [7]

Sundadonty is not a Caucasian trait, it is part of the "Mongoloid dental complex" [4], which evolved locally in Sunda Land (insular Indonesia); very similar teeth are found among Aboriginal Australians which "are also generally like those of Jomonese and some Ainus, suggesting that members of the late Pleistocene Sundaland population could have initially colonized Sahulland as well as the continental shelf of East Asia northward to Hokkaido" [4].

sinodont sundadont map
Map showing the Asian Range of Sundadonty (blue) and Sinodonty (yellow).. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

East Asians to the north of Sunda (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Mongolians) all have Sinodonty (dental shoveling). In general people belonging to Mongoloid groups (North Eastern Asians and, also American Indians) have the highest frequency of shoveled incisors while the rest of the world has chiseled ones. Shoveling is caused by the Ectodysplasin receptor gene (EDAR), also associated with hair thickness and the size and quantity of sweat and mammary glands. It is frequent in Asian populations and absent in Europeans, Africans, Denisovans and the Mal'ta remains from Siberia who carry the ancestral allele. The mutation or introgression (admixed through direct contact with H. erectus) is believed to have appeared in central China >30 Kya, a late date in my opinion since it was obtained by simulations restrained by a 15 Kya date for peopling America, which is far to recent. [5]

His teeth

The sundadonty of Kennewick man is an interesting find because it links him to Sunda (Insular Southeast Asia) and the archaic population of Japan, the Ainus.

The map above shows a discontinuity in the Sundadont range (blue). It is the intromission of Sinodonty (yellow) which cuts off Sunda in the south from Taiwan, Hokkaido, the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin and the tip of Kamchatka in the north.

This gap is currently occupied by sinodont populations (Chinese, Koreans and Japanese).

A simpe explanation for this discontinual distribution is that the sundadonts were the original people inhabiting the coastal areas of Oriental Asia and were later overlain or displaced to their current insular ranges by sinodonts in the central region (China, Korea, Japan).

Another option is that the Sundadonts moved from Sunda northwards, along the coastal areas in boats, or walked along the now submerged continental shelf alll the way to Hokkaido -the current Ainu territory (yet they seem to have failed occupying the main southern Japanese islands, or were later displaced from there by sinodonts).

migration to America sundadonty
Map showing a hypothetical route from Sunda to America for sundadont dental morphology. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

Did a branch of these migratory sundadonts reach America before the sindonts whose dental pattern now prevails among Amerindians? or, since sinodonty is a Homo erectus trait, did the admixture leading to Amerindian sinodonty take place in America, between an early arrived sundadont H. sapiens population and the ancient H. erectus settlers in America?

Turner [8] proposes a theory where "Sundadonty or more likely proto-Sundadonty, [is] the ancestral pattern for all modern humans". He bases this on the "generalized" appearance of Southeast Asian population: "they possess various external physical features of many geographic races, although usually in relatively low frequency". Interestingly "when South Siberian teeth are compared with those of Sundadonts, they show remarkable similarities. Because South Siberian [...] hybrid condition retrodicts the probable dental pattern of the common ancestors of Europeans and Asians before these derived groups drifted to their distinctive patterns by late Pleistocene times..." [8].

So Sunda would be the source of this dental morphology, coinciding with the place from which Y chromosome Haplogroup C radiated into New Guinea, Australia, India, China and Northeast Asia. see my post on haplogroup C. South Siberians also have hg. C at low frequencies.

The Ainu

Regarding the Ainu people of northern Japan, their similarity to Sunda populations such as the Bataks of Sumatra and the Dayaks of Borneo (shee photos below) was reported back in 1872 [9]. More recently, Genetic studies link the Ainu to Amerindians, and one should reread those studies within the hypothesis mentioned above. Perhaps both groups (Amerindians and Ainu) share a common sundadont ancestor which is the main reason for the similarities detected in these genetic studies.

ainu men
ainu man
Ainu people (Notice their curly hair in the top image and the clearly non-Mongolian look of the bearded man in the bottom one)
The impression I get is that they are two different kinds of Ainu.

dayak and Batak
Batak from Sumatra and Dayak from Borneo


The DNA samples taken from the Kennewick man did not give any conclusive results. The tests were botched (since I don't believe in conspiracy theories, I can only guess that they were done in an inadequate manner or that the technology used was rudimentary, perhaps the samples were unwittingly contaminated, etc.). Below is the conclusions by the National Parks Service [3]:

"Thus, two separate amplifications from two different extractions suggested that Kennewick Man does not belong to haplogroup D (because the fragment was at least partially digested at np 5176 by Alu I restriction enzyme) while a single amplification from one of the two extractions suggests he might belong to haplogroup D. Given that at this point it was still unclear whether or not either of the two extractions were clean (i.e., uncontaminated), amplifications from the extracts had given conflicting information and neither extract had been successfully tested for the diagnostic markers for haplogroups B, C or X, it was impossible to determine to which, if any, of the common modern American Indian mtDNA haplogroups the Kennewick remains belong. At very most, our results provided, at this point, no evidence that the Kennewick remains belonged to haplogroups A, B or C [3]

In other words he does not belong to mtDNA haplogroups A, B or C. And the two tests gave differing results for hg. D (one was positive, the other negative). So he may or may not belong to haplogroup D. He may belong to X or M or any of the other haplogroups for which he was not tested.

I have not found any records regarding his Y chromosome analysis.

Closing Comments

Despite the theories put forth by some blogs and forums regarding a European origin for Kennewick man and the links they try to build between him and the Solutreans and Cro-Magnons of Europe, I am inclined towards an Asian origin for the Kennewick man

His sundadont teeth clearly set him apart from any modern Europeans. He is closer to the more ancient modern human migrants that reached Sunda, Sahul and what is now insular Eastern Asia in the Out of Africa initial migration some 70 kya. He probably represents this basic and most archaic line of modern humans who may have reached America not long after their departure from Africa. They do not, in my opinion, represent the more recent "white Europeans" as some propose (many of these forums have some white supremacist viewpoints, which I abhor).

A clear typing of his mtDNA and Y chromosomes will settle the issue of this man and lead us to ask interesting questions regarding why are there no contemporary Caucasoid-looking Native Americans? and maybe clarify what is the exact link between these Sundadont populations, perhaps some other gene similar to the EDAR of the sinodonts?

I will dig deeper into the Ainu, they intrigue me and I want to learn more about them.


[1] Burke Museum, Kennewick Man - The ancient one
[2] James C. Chatters, (2004). Kennewick Man. Smithsonian Institution.
[3] U.S. National Parks Service Article 1, and Article 2
[4] Turner C. G., et al., (1990). Major features of Sundadonty and Sinodonty, including suggestions about East Asian microevolution, population history, and late Pleistocene relationships with Australian aboriginals. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1990 Jul;82(3):295-317
[5] My post on an Early Peopling of America
[6], Clay reconstruction of the Kennewick Man
[7] Chelbea Fair, The Desert Town Right Around the Riverbend
[8] G. Richard Scott, Christy G. Turner, (2000). The Anthropology of Modern Human Teeth: Dental Morphology and Its Variation in Recent Human Populations . Cambridge University Press, pp. 303.
[9] Vivien de Saint-Martin, (1872). L'ethnologie du Grand Archipel d'Asie... races humaines. L'Anée Géogr. 9:90-97

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 


  1. The very appearence of the mongoloid phenotype is a mystery. From australoid to mongoloid is one big change, yet they are related in their genes, which is atested by the dental patterns - strongly influenced by genetics. I strongly believe that caucasoid phenotypes in the Americas are caused by retention of more australoid features. Europeans have put themselves as standard, but truth is that there is Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. Caucasians are in between, not in the extreme. Not surprisingly we tell european dentition from what it is not and not from what it is. Arrogance. :)

  2. My recollection is that the Spirit Cave Mummy from northern Nevada was speculated to have been related to Kennewick Man based on dental type, but also the blanket he was wrapped in's weaving was similar to a pattern found only in Borneo.
    One of his curators postulated early immigration by a "pan-pacific race", very closely resembling the path you suggest for Kennewick's family.
    Thanks for the wonderful site, I'll reply again when I've read everything.

  3. The Ainu connection is an interesting one I've often wondered about due to cultural similarities and the fact that the ocean currents directly link Japan to Haida Gwaii.


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