DNA tests extracted from the scalp of the Sioux Indian chief Tatanka Iyotanka, better known as Sitting Bull, showed that a living descendant who claimed to be his great-grandson is indeed his great-grandson, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

This is especially relevant because it is the first time that ancient DNA has been used to confirm a family relationship between living and historical individuals, according to Professor Eske Willerslev of the University of Cambridge (UK).

Confirmation of this family connection has been made possible by a new method for analyzing family lineages using ancient DNA fragments, developed by a team of scientists led by Professor Willerslev and the Lundbeck Foundation Center for Geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen.

The team compared autosomal, i.e., non-gender-specific, DNA from the scalp of the Sitting Bull Indian leader with DNA samples from Ernie Lapointe, a man who claimed descent from him, and other members of the same Sioux tribe.

It took scientists 14 years to find a way to extract usable DNA from Sitting Bull’s tuft of hair, about 5 to 6 centimeters long and in an “extremely degraded” state, experts said, after it had been stored for more than a century at room temperature at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington before being returned to Lapointe in 2007.

The results showed that Lapointe is indeed a great-grandson of Sitting Bull and, consequently, his closest living descendant. After learning the fruits of this study, Lapointe celebrated that his connection is finally being recognized after “many people over the years have tried to question” his lineage.


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