Kennewick Man—The Japanese Connection

What Were the Ancients Trying to Tell Us?

On July 28, 1996, two young men were attending the annual hydroplane races on the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. One of them, Will Thomas, dangling his hand in the water, suddenly touched what he first thought was a round rock, before realizing the rock had teeth. He brought the skull to the police who then returned and discovered the rest of the skeleton. At first officials thought they had a crime scene. Although missing bones from the hands and feet, the skeleton was still in remarkably good shape.

The body was of a man, around 5’8” tall, who had suffered some serious wounds. The coroner was not sure just how recently the crime might have taken place, so a forensic anthropologist who ran a company from his home, called Applied Paleoscience, was brought in. The preliminary finding: the victim was a white man, in his fifties, who had been dead for about a hundred years.

Before the police would go any further with their fresh, or “cold,” murder case, though, the bones, it was decided, would need to be carbon dated. The results of that study shocked nearly everyone. Indeed, it was established, that if the man had been murdered, it had possibly been as long ago as nine thousand years. The case immediately became highly controversial and political. Claiming jurisdiction, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers took charge of the body but was immediately confronted by NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act). Several tribes joined in claiming the skeleton belonged to them, and soon all research into what the native Americans called “the ancient one” was brought to a complete halt. It did not resume for two years.

When study was finally allowed to continue, it was only after a conclusive showing that the skeleton, now dubbed “Kennewick Man,” was not of American Indian origin. The question remained, however: if he was not an American Indian, what was he?

When Kennewick Man died he was between 45 and 55 years old and muscular. His thick legs indicated a person who had sustained himself by hunting and fishing. Upon examination it was noted he had received several wounds that most likely had healed before his death. A depression above his left eye indicated he had been hit with a rock or suffered a fall. He had a healed fracture of one shoulder. He also had a wound that may have been the result of a spear stabbing his right hip. That wasn’t what killed him, though. It was determined that, most likely, his chest had been crushed. The “autopsy” concluded that he had some characteristics in common with Caucasian, and some with Native Americans. His diet, however, as evidenced by his teeth, was quite different from that of Native Americans.

Another Caucasian man had been found in 1940 in a Nevada cave. He had been buried with respect, partially mummified with a bit of red hair surviving nearly one thousand years. Spirit Cave Man, as he was called, was turned over to a local tribe and then disappeared before thorough research could be completed. The same fate befell other Caucasian skeletons, thanks largely to a law seemingly designed to block research even in cases where skeletons were clearly not of American Indian ancestry.


Trans-Pacific Migration

Possibly the most surprising suggestion was that the Kennewick Man may have come from Japan. But, indeed, it was determined that of 18 modern populations of humans, he most resembled the Ainu, a Caucasoid race known for amber-colored eyes, white skin and wavy, abundant hair. Vastly different from their Japanese neighbors, the Ainu made their homeland in the northern islands of Japan—Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuriles as well as on the main island of Honshu. They have been regarded as a semi-nomadic, paleo-Siberian fishing and hunting people. At the same time, they were a Neolithic planting culture, although past prejudice, rather than reality, might have unfairly kept them classified as primitive. Laws passed in Japan in 1899 prevented them from owning land. They were also discriminated against in housing, schools and employment. It was not until 1998 that the Japanese fully repealed the many unjust laws, which had excluded the Ainu from Japanese society.

To better understand the Ainu past, the 1998 law also set aside funds for research into their history. These studies, it was hoped, might help to explain the many unusual achievements of the Ainu peoples.

Could, by either design or accident, intrepid Asian sailors have crossed the immense North Atlantic? Sailors in northern Japan, it is clear, took advantage of what is called the Japanese Current. This is a vast circulatory clockwise ocean movement that allows ships to easily cross the north Pacific and land in Vancouver and points south. Ships would first be carried northward then swept south. From the British Columbian coast, the California current then made sailing along the western coast of the U.S. easy. The current extends south along the Mexican coast all the way to Panama.

If so, could a small migration have been made, only to be killed off by Native Americans? The Menomonee, in fact, have a tradition of an older, fierce tribe that killed off a fair-skinned population in the distant past. Oddly enough they were called Menomonee meaning “gatherers of wild rice.” In archaic Japanese the word menominee meant “rice gatherers.” Other early Japanese words that found their way to the American continent include kiva, a sacred place in the southwest culture of America, and a “place of meditation” in Japan. In Japan meshi meant corn porridge while maize meant corn to the American peoples.

Was the Kennewick man one of those who had made a trans-Pacific voyage to fish or hunt only to find himself the hunted? At least he wasn’t alone. He had been buried, implying that others survived to show him the last respect. In ancient times ships that could hold 200 people plied the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Most likely Kennewick Man was part of a larger group of ancient fishermen or even explorers. Junks have been found along the California and Mexican coast.

Evidence of Chinese in America is in great supply. A junk under the waters of Bodega Bay regularly gives up ceramics to enterprising divers. Chinese porcelain has been found in Drake’s Bay. And Chinese and Japanese pottery has been found in British Colombia.


The Ainu Discover America

The Ainu descended from the ancient Jomon Culture that may have started as far back as 13,000 years ago. The Jomon were seemingly a primitive society made up of hunter-gatherers and fisherman. At the same time, they had an advanced artistic pottery that somehow made it to the Valdivia coast in Ecuador.

In 1960 an Ecuadorian archaeologist was fascinated by some of the oldest pottery discovered in South America. He invited two professional archaeologists to visit and provide their opinion. Betty J. Meggers and Clifford Evans had radiocarbon tests done on some of his finds and were stunned. The pottery dated to 3620 BC. Furthermore, the Valdivia pottery seemed remarkably similar to pottery styles found on the other side of the Pacific in the Northern islands as well as the island of Kyushu in Japan. Some of the similarities included finger-made groove patterns, zigzag cross hatching, zoned parallel line patterns, braid impressions, and undulated rims bordered by an incised line.

In Japan, the Jomon style is 7,000 years old and developed in stages, producing many variations along the way. In Ecuador (and in Colombia) the pottery was all of the same style and showed no stages of development. This suggests that people of the Jomon culture itself were those who sailed to South America.

Meggers took great criticism for her claims, even as more evidence was discovered. In one case, a weapon with a star-shaped head joined to a handle by a hole is found in Japan and Korea, and Ecuador. Since it is not found anywhere else it might add to the case for a Japan-Ecuador connection.

Medical evidence points to another connection. Examining mummies in South America and in Japan, researchers found a virus linked to T-cell leukemia. The only places in the world where this HTLV-1 virus is found are Japan, Andean Ecuador, and northern Chile.

The Jomon culture as parent to the Ainu people was renowned for its technological and artistic skills with pottery and other ceramics. Ironically the Ainu, themselves, have never been held in much esteem, but recently that has begun to change. In 1992 an excavation for a ballpark led to the discovery of their largest settlement uncovered to date. In the first months of digging, over 100 structures were discovered. As the excavation continues, many more storehouses, domestic structures and watchtowers are coming to light; and it is believed that, ultimately, over 1,000 buildings will be found. This village was clearly laid out in a manner implying that an organized political structure existed as well. This sets back the notion that they were a strictly semi-nomadic primitive people.

Skilled maritime hunters, as the Ainu were known to be, the new evidence reveals a culture much greater than that of mere hunter-gatherers. From Korea to the northern islands of Japan, they left a legacy of impressive megalithic structures. While much more research on the hundreds of their monuments needs to be done, there is already much evidence that these structures are oriented to the stars, as well as solstice and equinox dates.

There may be as many as 20,000 Ainu alive today. Japanese place names indicate that at some time in the past they may have been much more widespread. The famous mountain name “Fuji” is actually an Ainu word, like many of the place-names surrounding it. The Ainu translation of Fuji is fire, and the dormant volcano there was worshipped for possibly thousands of years. The fire goddess was the mother who could end illness of the body or the soul and the one who took care of the house.

They worshipped the sky as well, as their word kamu (which is the oldest Japanese word for god) means in Ainu, covering. In many cases it is not the mountain or the sky being worshipped but the spirit of the mountain or sky.

North Pacific tribes, including the Coast Salish, the Nootka, the Bella Coola, and the Kwakiutl, share with the Japanese a belief in a Supreme god. Many American tribes had animist beliefs like the Japanese Shinto religion. They believed that beast, fish, and birds all had souls and that a power existed in the invisible breeze, currents of the ocean, and storms.

The Ainu held dualistic beliefs shared from Northern Asia to Central Asia. All, they believed, had two natures, one visible, and one invisible. The spirits often were good and evil. Health can be followed by illness and death. The dark is replaced by the light. A joyful day can be followed by one of sorrow. The true good creator brought the good, while the Nitne Kamui brought evil. Because deep-sea fishing was dangerous, they had good and evil gods among the creatures of the sea. A whale could be a good god who might be called upon to help in a storm. An unusual fish might be a bad spirit.

They had a bear ceremony that is truly remarkable. Captured bear cubs were raised in captivity for two years. Well fed up until the time of their sacrifice, they were asked to remember their treatment to the spirits and then “sent away.” Charms were made from bones, and the men drank the still-warm blood, careful not to spill a drop as this was taboo. Similar bear cults and sacrifices, vestiges of a pan-Arctic culture, stretched from Siberia to Alaska, to Labrador and the Hudson Bay, and south to Nootka, Tlingit, and the Kwakiutl cultures of British Columbia.

When seventeenth century explorers traveled the rivers of America they came upon rock art. One notable feature was the Piasu, a fearful looking dragon. Researchers have noted the same Dragon decorating the Hachi-Rai shrine in Japan. Both are bearded, winged, multi-colored, and both share odd deer-like horns. Hachi-Rai means “Eight Thunders,” and the legend is that a dragon lived north of the village.


A Wider Realm

The Caucasians of Northern Asia not only took up residence in the Pacific Northwest, they may have traveled as far as the Midwest. While many attribute the mound building cultures of the Midwest to contact with pyramid builders of Central America, author Frank Joseph points out in Advanced Civilizations of Prehistoric America the great similarity between the mound building of the Midwest and that of the northern isles of Japan and mainland Korea.

American mound building began long after the time frame of Kennewick Man’s arrival in 8500 BC. The Joman middle period beginning circa 3000 BC and extending to 1000 BC saw a great deal of mound construction. This stopped circa 1000 BC and resumed in 400 BC, in what is called the Yayoi period, and then resumed in the Kofun Period AD 250-600. A very large structure at Shimane-ken was built in the same fashion as Ohio’s Hopewell sites near Chillicothe and in Pinson, Tennessee. Stone structures that appeared in Adena times are similar to Hokkadio’s Kiuses site.

Mounds from the Hopewell period are oriented to the setting sun, as are the Yayoi mounds. During the Middle Jomon phase in Japan grass-covered long houses served as temples and council houses. These same structures are found even today in the American Midwest.

Elephant Mounds in North America are particularly remarkable, as there were no elephants. The elephant was, however, an object of worship (and still is) in Asia.

Frank Joseph also reported that DNA studies of Blackfoot and other tribes from states including Minnesota and Michigan show them to be descended, in

part, from Neolithic Japanese. Native Americans and Ainu from Hokkaido share Haplogroup D1.

The Caucasian peoples of Central Asia, at some point, left their homeland and headed west to the Atlantic where they brought certain aspects of their culture. They also, according to author A.W. Reed (The Maori, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), spread to Southeast Asia where they became the ancestors of seagoing peoples including the Maori. The Maori are known to New Zealand and are related to peoples who reached the Pacific Northwest shores of Canada and the United States. Shared use of canoes and totem poles, common customs and religion help make the case for a much more highly developed culture than modern historians allow.

As racial division and prejudice diminish it is possible that in the future we may yet develop a better understanding of the ancient ancestors of humanity.

By Steven Sora