//On Your Knees Cave & Shuká Káa
On Your Knees Cave & Shuká Káa2018-10-02T19:05:08+00:00

On Your Knees Cave & Shuká Káa

On Your Knees Cave is the site of Native American artifacts and human bones. It is located on Prince of Wales Island. That is off the coast of southeastern Alaska.

Map of On Your Knees Cave

Map of On Your Knees Cave

In 1996, human bones were found there. These are the remains of Shuká Káa. They were tested for their age using radio carbon dating. The tests showed that they were from about 10,300 years ago.

Stone tools and animal bones were also found in the cave. Test results showed that the people using the cave were mainly eating food they caught in the ocean.

DNA testing of some of the bones showed that they were part of mtDNA haplogroup D. They were also part of Y-chromosome haplogroup Q-M3.

Cave Discovery

Opening to On Your Knees Cave

On Your Knees Cave


On Your Knees Cave is on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island. It is inside the Tongass National Forest. It was found in 1993 by the Tongass Cave Project.

The project is a joint effort between the Tongass National Forest and the National Speleological Society. When the cave was found, it was partly covered by fallen rocks and plant growth.

Animal Bones

The next year, researchers began exploring it. They found the bones of bears and other animals. Many bears had used the cave for thousands of years. Some of the bears were extinct on the island. Additional researchers became involved. These included Timothy Heaton, Fred Grady, Brian Kemp, and E. James Dixon.

Researches tested the bones from over 100 animal bone found in the cave. They dated the bones using carbon-14 dating. Results showed that the animals had lived and died on the island for over 40,000 years. This means the island was home to life throughout the last ice age.

The direction of research changed though when human remains were found in 1996.

NAGPRA and Ethics

Once human bones were found, the researchers had to follow the law, NAGPRA, for Native American grave sites. They stopped all work. Heaton and his team contacted local tribal governments. They needed to decide who owned the bones. Ownership was passed to the Tlingit people of Alaska. The tribe had misgivings about allowing the researchers to study the bones. They finally agreed though.

For twelve years, the researchers were allowed to study the bones. When they were done, they returned the bones to the tribe. The tribe then reburied them. They also held a celebration festival to honor the event.

Human Bones Found

Stone tools from On Your Knees Cave

Stone Tools

The bones included part of a hip bone, part of a spine, and jaw bones with teeth. The researchers used carbon dating to find the age of these bones.  They are from someone who lived around 10,300 years ago. This makes On Your Knees Cave one of the oldest human grave sites in North America.

The research team did a special type of testing called Isotopic analyses on the bones. This testing showed that the people ate food high in marine protein. That is they lived on fish and other wild prey they caught in the sea.

Additional testing shows that the bones were from a young man. He was likely in his 20s when he died. He has been named Shuká Káa.

With the bones, they found stone tools. The tools are made of a hard stone, obsidian.

Obsidian is not found on the island. However, the tools were made on the island. The researchers found evidence of the tool making process at the site. Thus, the people using the cave must have gotten the stone from someplace else. They then brought it to the island and made tools with it.

Researchers then believe the tool makers traveled to and from the island using canoes. This also fits with a diet rich in sea foods.

DNA Testing

The research team was able to get DNA from Shuká Káa's bones. They used a tooth. They first tested the DNA for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Later, they tested it for Y-chromosome DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA analysis

Mitochondria provide human cells with power. There are hundreds of mitochondria in every human cell. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is mitochondria's DNA code. All men an women get their mtDNA from their mother. Small changes in mtDNA over time mark branches of the maternal tree. Scientists call these branches haplogroups. Thus, scientists use mtDNA and mtDNA haplogroups to explore our maternal origins.

When the researchers first tested Shuká Káa's mtDNA, they found that he belonged to haplogroup D.  This is an old lineage. It is found in both Asia and Native American populations.

However, his sequence did not match to those who tested from the Tlingit tribe. Thus, there was not a close maternal relationship.

Y-chromosome analysis

The Y-chromosome is the human male sex chromosome. Its DNA, Y-chromosome DNA, is stored inside the nucleus of cells. All men get their Y-chromosome from their father. Women do not have a Y-chromosome. Like mtDNA, Y-chromosome DNA accumulates small changes over time. These small changes mark branches on the paternal tree. Scientists call these branches Y-chromosome haplogroups. The Y-chromosome and Y-chromosome haplogroups help us understand our paternal origins.

In time, the research team tested Shuká Káa's Y-chromosome DNA. He belonged to the Native American Q-M3 branch of the tree. This branch is almost entirely restricted to the Americas. It is the most common paternal lineage in the Americas as well.

Sources & Resources

Fladmark, K. R. (1979). Routes: Alternate migration corridors for early man in North America. American Antiquity44(1), 55-69.

Kemp, B. M., Malhi, R. S., McDonough, J., Bolnick, D. A., Eshleman, J. A., Rickards, O., … & Fifield, T. E. (2007). Genetic analysis of early Holocene skeletal remains from Alaska and its implications for the settlement of the Americas. American Journal of Physical Anthropology132(4), 605-621.

Kivisild, T. (2017). The study of human Y chromosome variation through ancient DNAHuman genetics136(5), 529-546.

Lawler, A. (2010). A tale of two skeletons.

Mayes, A. T. (2010). These bones are read: the science and politics of ancient Native America. american indian quarterly34(2), 131-156.

Saleeby, B. M. (2010). Ancient footsteps in a new land: Building an inventory of the earliest Alaskan sites. Arctic Anthropology47(2), 116-132.

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, January 4). On Your Knees Cave. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:18, August 21, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=On_Your_Knees_Cave&oldid=818539089.



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