Washington state

His daughter thought he looked like Kennewick Man. A DNA test revealed a genetic surprise

A distant relative of Kennewick Man?

Alexis Sanchez for years has thought her father, Javier, is a dead ringer for the statue of "The Ancient One" or Kennewick Man. She's ecstatic after a recent at-home DNA test revealed her dad, Javier, shares a distant genetic link to the ancient man.
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Alexis Sanchez for years has thought her father, Javier, is a dead ringer for the statue of "The Ancient One" or Kennewick Man. She's ecstatic after a recent at-home DNA test revealed her dad, Javier, shares a distant genetic link to the ancient man.

Alexis Sanchez walked into the Kennewick library a few years back and was stopped in her tracks by a bust on display.

She thought it looked just like her dad, Javier.

It actually was a sculpture of The Ancient One, commonly known as Kennewick Man, whose 8,400- to 8,600-year-old remains were discovered in the mid-90s along the Columbia River.

Alexis posted about the coincidence on social media, then moved on.

But a few weeks ago, an even bigger surprise was revealed: an at-home DNA test linked Javier distantly to Kennewick Man.

They’re part of the same paternal haplogroup — a group that shares a common ancestor along the maternal or paternal line.

“I was just ecstatic. It’s crazy,” Alexis said.

Javier doesn’t exactly see a resemblance. “I don’t know,” he said with a laugh, when he saw the sculpture for the first time the other day.

But he’s interested in Kennewick Man. He spent time studying the display the East Benton County History Museum, which now has the statue.

Javier Sanchez Kennewick
Javier Sanchez recently stands near the bronze bust of “The Ancient One” or Kennewick Man at the East Benton County Historical Museum. An at-home DNA test revealed a genetic link. Watch a video at: tricityherald.com/video Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

To him, it all shows that “people no matter where their heritage is from — where they’re from — I assume everybody is related at some point,” Javier said.

The father and daughter both took at-home DNA tests from the ancestry service 23andMe. It has more than 5 million customers.

They took the tests a while back, but the results continually update.

Recently, the connection to The Ancient One popped up on their profiles.

The father and daughter both are linked to him through the Q-M3 haplogroup, which the company says traces to an ancestor who likely lived more than 15,000 years ago and had descendants who crossed from Asia to North American over the Bering land bridge.

A 23andMe spokeswoman said the company can’t quantify exactly how many customers may have a similar distant link to The Ancient One. But Q-M3 is somewhat commonly found among customers, Christine Pai told the Herald.

The Ancient One’s skeletal remains were uncovered in 1996 after two college students found part of a skull along the Kennewick shoreline during the hydroplane races. The skeleton was among the oldest and most complete ever found in North America.

Smithsonian physical anthropologists Karin Bruwelheide, left, and Doug Owsley discuss the position of the Kennewick Man skeleton during an anatomical layout of the remains in this file photo. Chip Clark Smithsonian

The discovery set off a years-long legal battle, with scientists pushing to study the bones and Native American tribes desiring to have them repatriated.

At first, scientific findings indicated that Kennewick Man “was not of Native American affinity, and may have been more closely related to circumpacific groups such as the Ainu and Polynesians,” according to the Burke Museum in Seattle, which was home to the remains for nearly a decade during the court fight.

But further study revealed him to be Native American.

kennewick man
One of the artist renderings as to what Kennewick Man may have looked like. The Smithsonian

In 2017, more than 200 members of the five Columbia Plateau tribes and bands laid their ancestor to rest in a private ceremony.

Javier Sanchez, 56, has lived in the Tri-Cities since the early 1980s.

His home isn’t too far from where the skeleton was found, but he traveled a difficult path to get there.

He escaped abuse and poverty in Mexico by setting out alone, as a teenager, for the United States, he said. He survived on very little, even camping for weeks in a lemon orchard, with just the sour fruit to eat.

He was about 17 when he arrived in the Tri-Cities.

Sanchez DNA statue.jpg
Javier Sanchez kneels near an informational sign about Kennewick Man displayed outside the East Benton County Historical Museum in downtown Kennewick. Watch a video at: tricityherald.com/video Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Over the next several decades, he built a successful business here, as well as a family. He has two daughters, Alexis and Alisha, both nurses, and a son, André.

He’s a legal permanent resident and is working toward citizenship.

“I’m not a rich man at all, by no means,” Javier said. But through years of hard work, he’s made a comfortable life for himself, with some touches he once only could have dreamed of — like marble floors in his home.

“He told me, ‘I had dirt floors for so long, and no shoes. If I want marble floors, I can have marble floors,” Alexis said with a laugh.

She’s in awe of the journey her father took, and marvels that it eventually brought him to within miles of The Ancient One.

Javier said that, like so many others, he came here because “I wanted better.”

“You did good,” his daughter said, standing in the museum, near the sculpture. “I don’t have dirt floors, and I have shoes, Dad.”

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Sara Schilling writes about what makes the Tri-Cities home, including cool people doing cool things. She also pays special attention to children’s education, schools, health care and the arts. She grew up in Kennewick and attended Seattle Pacific University.