The Genealogy of Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi

In 1999, hunters looking for sheep stumbled upon the remains of a man in Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, British Columbia, Canada. The man was found at the foot of a glacier. After reporting the discovery, a team of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists worked with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations to recover the remains. His affiliation wasn’t really well known.

Several months later, carbon dating on the hat and robe found on the man was completed. The remains of the man, named Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi, was calculated to be at least 340 years old. The closer interval of Kwaday was calculated to be 160 years old. That puts his death somewhere between 1670 and 1850 AD. Because many of these indigenous people in modern day Yukon and Alaska practice an oral tradition, this date didn’t help figure out which tribe Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi belongs too.

Since 1999, not much was heard from Kwaday. But, a symposium dedicated to Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi just wrapped up this weekend in Victoria. All sorts of research has been done on Kwaday, such as analysis of the clothing, tools associated, migratory patterns, even the contents of his stomach. People shared their studies at this symposium. The most interesting research shared was an analysis of the genealogy of Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi.

The genealogy was constructed by sampling some DNA from Kwaday’s remains. The results linked Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi to 17 living people. 15 of these people self-identify with the Wolf Clan, meaning the young man was may have been a member of the Wolf Clam as well. I don’t know which genetic loci was screened, I’m guessing a basic STR marker screen, the ones used in criminology, was done. I’d like to know what was done, because the thoroughness and robusticity of the test greatly effect the results. So does the comparison pool. Who were the outgroups? And how many people was the DNA compared too?

The news article reporting this doesn’t drop names about who did this study. A shame really, the author, Murray Langdon, discusses the ethics of working on and with Native Americans, but no mention was made to who did the genetic study. If you’re out there, mystery researcher, please comment and let us know how you analyzed and compared Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi ancestry.

8 thoughts on “The Genealogy of Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi

  1. I’m not 100% positive, but I believe that the comparison was through mtDNA (although there might have been other tests involved). Here is a quote from an article at the CBC here:

    ” ‘The blood sample proved it that through the mitochondrial DNA that the long-ago person and myself and my sister, … we’re related. It was very moving [and] overwhelming,’ Callaghan said Friday.”

    The use of mtDNA was one of the reasons I was bothered by all the headlines that said “descendants” rather than relatives.

    I’m also not positive about the work, but I see that the presenters of that portion of the symposium were Diane Strand (Chief of the Nation), Karen Mooder (a Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta), and Sheila Greer (an “Edmonton-based anthropologist”). The program is at

    Prior research has shown that Kwaday Dan Ts’inchi’s mtDNA belong’s to Haplogroup A.

  2. Hi Blaine,

    Thanks for the clarification. I didn’t look for other news sources carrying more information, just the one I linked too. I totally agree with you on the mtDNA criticism… more tests may have been done but mtDNA won’t clearly identify descendants, especially if Wolf Clan social system was based on or tracing descent through the male line… “a patrilineal society.”

    Does anyone know if Wolf Clan society was patrolinear?


  3. Is the actual mtDNA haplotype available anywhere? Haplogroup A is the most common among Native Americans, but know the actual mutations may reveal hoa common the haplotype is in today’s population. Also, how much of the mtDNA from the remains were the scientists able to recover and sequence? If only HVS-1, the number of mutations compared would be relatively small and possibly yield a large number of false positive matches…

  4. Blaine, didja see this abstract presented at the conference? “Helicobacter pylori DNA amplified from the stomach tissue of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi,” reminds me of this study. The authors write,

    “By PCR analysis, we have demonstrated the presence of Helicobacter pylori DNA in the stomach tissue of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi. We also present a preliminary assessment of the connection between H. pylori DNA sequence variation and possible population migration.

    I wonder what the preliminary assessment was?

    Also, the list of abstracts also confirm that Chief Diane Strand, Karen Mooder and Sheila Greer were the authors behind the genealogy study. They did do a mtDNA analysis, with a pool of 240 individuals.

    “Mitochondrial DNA analysis was also seen as appropriate since the Champagne and Aishihik people, as well as neighbouring tribes and First Nations, are clan (or moiety) based matrilineal societies. Initiated in 2000, the Community DNA study saw 240 citizens/members of Tribes and First Nations from the surrounding Yukon, northwest British Columbia and southeast Alaska region coming forward to provide samples of their own DNA. These were sequenced and then compared to the sequence obtained from the Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi individual.”

    The abstract confirms that the First Nations are organized by matrilines, so mtDNA maybe good enough considering their society see a person belonging to the mother’s lineage.


  5. Ugo, yes Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi’s partial mtDNA sequence is available on GenBank.

    Here is the entry for it: “Homo sapiens isolate Kwaday Dan Ts’inchi mitochondrial control.” Accession number: AF502945.

    I dunno if this 360bp fragment is HVS-1. Didn’t bother to check, but you are right — if Chief Diane Strand, Karen Mooder and Sheila Greer only used this fragment for comparison, it maybe too small to build a really complete geneaology.


  6. This would have been a great conference to attend, wish I had been in the area. It’s amazing how much data researchers have gathered and analyzed and shared as a result of this find.

    For what it’s worth, I see that out of 423 Haplogroup A users in mitosearch, only 2 match Kwaday Dän Ts’inchi’s haplotype exactly (using his partial sequence, of course). Additionally, only 1 record in the SMGF database matches exactly, compared to 729 records that are off by one or two markers. So this haplotype might be relatively rare (which would help support their conclusion).

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