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An Interview With Dr. Brian M. Kemp

I recently highlighted an article published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology entitled “Genetic analysis of early holocene skeletal remains from Alaska and its implications for the settlement of the America”.

I thought it might be interesting to ask one of the authors, Dr. Brian M. Kemp, his thoughts on the relationship between genetic genealogy and anthropological research, the future of Native American anthropology, and how he entered the field. Dr. Kemp, who is currently doing a post-doc at Vanderbilt University, was kind enough to share some of his valuable time.

Will genetic testing of the public through companies such as Family Tree DNA and Oxford Ancestors have any impact on the study of anthropology?

“Well, it certainly places anthropologists in an important position of helping the general public contextualize the results of such testing. Some of the major issues that have surfaced, and will continue to do so, from the recent fascination of genetic ancestry are those of race, evolution, and identity. These are topics of long-standing interest to anthropologists. It is my hope that the proliferation of genetic ancestry tests will cause the general public to become more interested in anthropology and human evolution in general.”

Is ancient DNA the best source of data for determining the spread of Native American populations into and throughout the Americas? What other sources of information might shed light on the topic?

No. It is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Reconstructing prehistory is best done when genetic, linguistic, cultural, and archaeological evidence is all taken into account. However, I think archaeological data will be the most informative in addressing more precisely when humans first entered the Americas. The oldest well-dated human remains in the Americas will place a minimum on the time of entry.”

Do the results of your study suggest that additional founder Native American haplogroups or subhaplogroups might be identified in the future?

“Absolutely. In fact, my colleagues and I have already identified an additional mitochondrial DNA lineage in prehistoric North America in two ~5,000 year old human remains. The report will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and is currently available on-line in an advanced electronic form. The early Americans are going to continue to reveal surprises.

Malhi, R. S., B. M. Kemp, J. A. Eshleman, J. Cybulski, D. G. Smith, S. Cousins and H. Harry. In Press. Haplogroup M Discovered in Prehistoric North America.  Journal of Archaeological Science.  Available on-line May 2nd, 2006.”

How did you get interested in the study of Native American mtDNA?

“As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan I took a class in molecular anthropology from Dr. Andrew Merriwether and quickly became fascinated by the fact that really cool genetic methods could be used to study the evolution and prehistory of our species. I was sold. At that point, to the dismay of my parents perhaps, I decided to not become a medical doctor, but rather to pursue the study of anthropology. At that time Dr. Merriwether had an active research program studying mtDNA of South American Indians and I volunteered to help in his lab. There I received my initial training in molecular techniques and one thing led to another and I entered graduate school to continue to study about Native American prehistory and using genetic evidence to reconstruct the past.”

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

2 Comments

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  2. MR. Kamp,

    Can you please tell me more about “really cool genetic methods” – please? I would like to share them with my 3rd grade class. You can wrote to the email address of my teacher (above). Maybe you could even come visit my class in california for show and tell.

    Sincerely,
    willy

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