A sample of Sitting Bull’s hair has allowed scientists to identify the great-grandson of the famed Native American Leader.
Sitting Bull, whose Lakota name was Tatanka-Iyotanka, was a key Native American leader in the 19th century, notably leading 1,500 warriors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn against US General Custer and his five companies of federal troops in 1876. He was killed in 1890 by ‘Indian Police’ working for the US government.
Now, researchers have managed to extract DNA from his hair held in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, enabling them to track down his living great-grandson. It’s the first time DNA testing has ever been used to establish a familial link between a living person and historical, dead figure.
Ernie LaPointe, 73, of South Dakota, is the leader’s great-grandson. ‘I feel this DNA research is another way of identifying my lineal relationship to my great-grandfather,’ LaPointe, who also has three sisters, said, as per The Guardian.
LaPointe had long held that he was a descendant of Sitting Bull. ‘People have been questioning our relationship to our ancestor as long as I can remember. These people are just a pain in the place you sit – and will probably doubt these findings, also,’ he added.
Eske Willerslev, director of the Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre at the University of Cambridge, led the study – but he had little to work with, after LaPointe burned the majority of Sitting Bull’s lock at a ceremony prior to the research, which he initially believed to be ‘disastrous’.
‘LaPointe asked me to extract DNA from it and compare it to his DNA to establish relationship. I got very little hair and there was very limited DNA in it. It took us a long time developing a method that, based on limited ancient DNA, can by compared to that of living people across multiple generations,’ Willerslev explained, adding that the new method took 14 years to perfect.
‘There existed methods, but they demanded for substantial amounts of DNA or did only allow to go to the level of grandchildren. With our new method, it is possible to establish deeper-time family relationships using tiny amounts of DNA.’
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