Just about thirteen thousand years ago, in what is now southern Montana, a young boy a toddler — died and was buried with an array of spectacular stone and bone tools. The burial deposit was accidentally exposed during construction activities in 1968. The artifacts from what became known as the Anzick site are among the crown jewels of the Clovis culture, but now the young boy with whom these “wonderful things” were buried has taken center stage. On February 12th, researchers announced that DNA recovered from the child’s bones had opened a window on the origins of American Indians. It is now clear that the ancestors of America’s Clovis culture entered this hemisphere from eastern Asia. They either walked across the Bering Land Bridge or paddled their small boats along the Pacific coast to get here. Moreover, these original discoverers of America are the ancestors of all American Indians.

Ohio Clovis point (A851/11)

Ohio Clovis point (A851/11)

Eske Willerslev, the leader of the team that recovered the boy’s DNA, declared in the New Scientist that “It’s crazy. Finding someone who is directly ancestral to the entire population of a continent that just does not happen. I don’t think it would ever happen in Europe, or in Siberia. There are very few places where this could happen.” Willerslev discussed his work with American Indian tribal members in the region. Shane Doyle, a member of the Crow tribe, described his reaction to visiting the burial site: “It was overwhelming. I didn’t quite know what to say. I was overcome with emotion. I knew that it was going to be a landmark discovery but I don’t think I realised how significant it was. I’m still wrapping my head around it. I can say my life hasn’t been the same since that day though.” Even though the Anzick site is in Montana, the Clovis culture extended across North America and this child’s relations were also related to the first Ohioans. So the ancient tragedy of this boy’s untimely death is an American story with implications for Ohio’s earliest history. Shane Doyle’s reaction to the recovery of ancient DNA from the Anzick child, reminds me of what Ben Barnes, Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe, wrote about his changing views of the study of not-quite-so-ancient American Indian human remains recovered from a site not so far from Ohio. Like Shane Doyle, Ben Barnes found the recovery of this ancestor’s story “one of the more fulfilling and affirming moments in my life.”

The Extreme History Project has a webpage devoted to the Anzick Child Burial. It includes a Poem for the Anzick Boy by Marsha Fulton. She writes that she wanted “to interject some humanity into this important discovery.” She succeeded wonderfully. Here is an excerpt: “We leave you here, sheltered From the winds and passing beasts. Beneath a star to guide your way. We leave you the sacred tools To take with you on your journey. I give them to you, blessed with earths blood And with a fathers broken heart.”

Brad Lepper


Posted February 14, 2014
Topics: Archaeology

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