JUNEAU (AP) -- Southeast Alaska Natives are donating drops of blood this week to help unravel the mystery of a man who died more than 500 years ago on the ice of British Columbia.
The body of the man called Kwaday Dan Sinchi, or ''Long Ago Man Found,'' was discovered by sheep hunters in 1999 at the foot of a melting glacier in Tatshenshini-Alsek Park near the British Columbia-Yukon border.
Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in Canada decided to take DNA samples from present day Tlingit of Southeast Alaska and Athabascan Tutshone people in Canada to see if genetic material links them with the ancient man.
''People are very interested to find out, if it's possible, which communities he may be connected to,'' said Chuck Smythe, an ethnologist with Sealaska Heritage Foundation in Juneau.
''It's very interesting to know because this man was found in an area that was a shared area between the Canadian tribes and the Alaska tribes, and there was a lot of intermarriage and trade, commerce and interaction.''
Harryet Rappier of Juneau said the pin prick to draw her blood was a small inconvenience for the chance to learn more about her relatives to the north. Her mother was born in Klukshu, Yukon, in 1903.
''I just can't get enough information from that part of the country,'' Rappier said. ''I'd like to know more about my mother's people.''
Loretta ''Betty'' Marvin of Juneau, whose mother was born in Haines, was also happy to cooperate.
''To me this is pretty interesting, very fascinating, to be able to find out and check back what is it, 500 years, and there's maybe a possibility I could be a relative,'' Marvin said. ''And it's just kind of fascinating to know what DNA can do.''
More than 50 people showed up at the Sealaska building in Juneau on Monday and Tuesday to share stories and blood samples with a team of First Nations workers. In Alaska, the First Nations group is particularly interested in testing DNA of people with ancestors from Yakutat, Klukwan and Haines.
Along with the blood samples, the group is collecting genealogical information from the donors.
The DNA study is just one of a couple of dozen studies First Nations and universities in Canada, the United States, Great Britain and Australia are conducting on the man and the artifacts found near him, said Sarah Gaunt, heritage planner for Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
Although the man's head was missing, ice preserved most of the body, Smythe said.
Studies so far have shown Kwaday Dan Tsinchi was probably in his late teens or early 20s and was in good health. He had food with him -- a pouch of dried chum salmon was found in his robe.
Gaunt said the cause of death isn't known yet, but it may have been exposure.
Oral history suggests his fate may have been common.
''There's quite a lot of stories here and in the Interior of people who traveled and didn't come home,'' Gaunt said.
Hunting tools, a hat, robe and other artifacts lay near the body. The hat and robe have been dated to between 1415 and 1445, A.D., -- before the first known contact with white men on the Northwest Coast.
Where Kwaday Dan Tsinchi was from is a puzzle.
The finely woven spruce root hat found with him was in the style of the coastal Tlingit, but the robe was of Interior gopher fur -- a material Harryet Rappier remembers in a blanket her grandmother once had.
The hunting tools also provide conflicting clues, Gaunt said. Some of the wood is from coastal trees, but in other cases the wood comes from the Interior.
And researchers found pollen on the robe from a floral meadow-like area, from high alpine alder, from river valley vegetation and from coastal hemlock.
''There's four ecosystems represented in the coat alone, which means it was a well-traveled coat,'' Gaunt said.
While some Lower 48 Native Americans have objected to studies of ancient remains, Gaunt said this case was different because a legal agreement between Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the British Columbia government clearly gave First Nations ownership of the body and the artifacts found with it.
That level of control provided the comfort needed to proceed with studies, Gaunt said. The group allowed access to the remains for biological studies only until December of 2000. A decision on how the body ultimately will be laid to rest hasn't been settled, Gaunt said.
Besides the blood samples collected in Juneau, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations has taken blood from possible relatives of the man in Canada and plans to continue taking samples through the end of summer. Gaunt said results should be available about three months after that.
No one knows what to expect.
Smythe said DNA testing in Cheddar, England, found one local teacher was a direct descendant of a person whose 9,000-year-old bones were found in a cave near the village.
But there are no guarantees that will happen in this case.
''There may not be any matches at all,'' Gaunt said. ''Even if we do find a match, it may not tell us he was necessarily Tlingit or necessarily Tutshone.''
She notes that intermarriage both in the past and present may frustrate those hoping for clear-cut genetic answers.
Regardless of the DNA results, participants are seeing one benefit of the study -- renewed interaction between the Alaska and Canadian Native groups.
''Now people are starting to come together again, and this was very much a catalyst for it,'' Gaunt said.
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