New DNA analysis supports the ancient roots of an unidentified tribe in California

In The Handbook of the California Indianspublished in 1925, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber declared the Olone people “extinct in all practical purposes”, noting that only “a few scattered individuals survive”.

Although the anthropologist will not give up his declaration of extinction until the 1950s, “the damage has been done,” said Charlene Nieme, chairman of the Muvekma Olone tribe, which is far from extinct.

The Muwekma Ohlone tribe is a descendant of the Ohlone people, who originally lived on 4.3 million acres in the Gulf region. For decades, the Muvekma have sought to regain the federally recognized status they lost in the 1920s. Linguists and archaeologists suggest that the people of Olone migrated there 1,500 to 1,000 years ago. But the tribe has long claimed that its presence in the region dates further.

A study published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new genomic evidence that Muwekma’s connection to the Gulf region dates back at least 2,000 years. Working with the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, researchers at several universities extracted DNA from 12 ancient people buried in the region 2,000 years ago and found biological continuity with DNA collected by modern members of the tribe.

“Confirmation, finally,” said Monica Arelano, the tribe’s vice president and author of the article. “This adds to all the information we’ve put out there, the years of gathering and doing research proving who we are.”

Alice Bader, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who did not participate in the study, praised how the document includes tribes as co-authors and brings the community to the forefront. “This is recognized as a really important part of the research method, not something that is buried in additional information,” said Dr. Bader, adding: “These are all kinds of exciting guidelines for genomic research that include genomic research. on local communities and ancestors ”

In 2014, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission proposed a construction project for an archeological site that may have human burials. The commission reached the Muvekma Olone tribe, the most likely descendants of the ancients.

The tribe enlisted the Far Western Anthropological Research Group, a cultural resources consulting firm, to conduct excavations at what they called Síi Túupentak (Water Round House Site). Síi Túupentak, located near the confluence of the Alameda Creek and the Arroyo de la Laguna, was a rich place. The rural community fishes in the streams and manages nearby forests and pastures with controlled burning, said Brian Bird, an archaeologist at Far Western.

Far Western has also excavated another ancient site nearby, called Rummey Ta Kuččuwiš Tiprectak (Lagoon Stream Place), which was inhabited 2,500 years ago.

The members of the tribe led the excavations of the funerals, which was an emotionally challenging task. “It’s a pity we had to move them,” Ms Arelano said. “But if anyone has to do it, we take that responsibility very seriously and with as much care and love as possible.” The funerals were most likely prepared for people of high origin, as many of them were buried with precious shells, such as abalone pendants, Ms Arelano said.

Sometimes, when burials are opened, excavators gather under a large tree and discuss the process to ensure that everyone is heard, according to Dr. Bird. “Trust has often been something that is not the first step these days for archeology and local communities,” he said.

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Council wants to know if local burials can help prove the ancient presence of their people in the Gulf region, said Alan Leventhal, a tribal archaeologist and honorary professor at San Jose State University.

Ripan Malhi, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Noah Rosenberg, a population geneticist at Stanford University, joined the project to lead the ancient DNA analysis. The researchers presented all additional tests to the tribal council for approval. The council gave researchers the green light to examine dental plaque for signs of inhalants such as tobacco, as well as to conduct tests to determine the sex of buried children, Dr Bird said. “We were able to identify several ancestral samples that were really well preserved,” said Dr. Malhi.

After extracting DNA at both sites from 12 individuals who lived several hundred and 1,900 years ago, researchers compared their genomes with publicly available genetic information about other local communities in North and South America and ancient individuals around the world. The oldest and newest burials share distinctive combinations of genetic variants, suggesting that they belong to related groups.

The analysis identifies a shared component of descent that connects the people of the two ancient sites with the modern members of Muwakma. This origin can be found in other modern communities, but is present in a much higher proportion in Muwekma.

“It was surprising to find this level of continuity, given the many disturbances that the people of Olone experienced during the Spanish occupation, such as forced relocation and mixing with other tribes forcibly displaced by the Spaniards,” said Dr. Rosenberg.

In accordance with the principles of local data sovereignty, Muwekma will review requests for genomic data collected from tribal sites and members, retaining authority over the way the data is used. “This minimizes the potential damage to communities,” said Dr. Bader. “It is important.”

For members of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, these genetic findings represent a new line of evidence consistent with their tribe’s oral history. “This is almost our story, we have to prove who we are,” Ms Arelano said. “We knew who we were, we know who we are and we are still here.”

The Muvekma can trace their origins through several missions in the Gulf region and lived in small villages called ranchers until the early 1900s, Mr Leventhal said.

The tribe was once federally recognized by another name, the Verona group of Alameda County. But he lost recognition after 1927, when a Sacramento chief determined that Muvekma and more than 100 other tribal groups did not need land, effectively ending the tribe’s official federal recognition, Mr Leventhal said. “The tribe has never been stopped by any act of Congress,” he added.

Muwekma hopes that the new study and any further research will strengthen their arguments for federal recognition. “The cost of life is pushing us out,” said Ms. Nieme, the tribe’s president. “Recognition means that we will be able to have a land base and a community settlement and our people will stay on our lands where they deserve.

Síi Túupentak will soon open an interpretive center, including some of the artifacts from the excavations, information boards on the history of the tribal language and an eagle replica, an allusion to the history of the creation of Muvekma.

But the ancient people, once buried in Si Tuupentak, will be reburied elsewhere, as close as possible to their original graves, Ms Arelano said.

“It was supposed to be their last place to rest,” she said. “They never had to be moved.”

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