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Study Of DNA Reveals History Of Arctic's Earliest People

Update Date: Aug 29, 2014 09:59 AM EDT
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Dorset were the last of the Paleo-Eskimos that dominated eastern Canada and Greenland for centuries. However, seven hundred years ago Dorset people disappeared promptly. 

Researchers, in a new study search for clues of the Dorset's sudden extinction. They analyzed 169 ancient DNA samples to study the origins and migration patterns of early Arctic cultures. 

Findings of the study suggest a single, genetically distinct Paleo-Eskimo population that thrived in isolation for more than 4,000 years, only to vanish in a matter of decades.

"By using genetics and genomics, they were able to answer questions that archaeologists have been trying to solve for decades," said Todd R. Disotell, a professor of anthropology at New York University, who was not involved in the research, according to NYT. "Tiny fragments of teeth and hair are now yielding more data than we ever imagined."

Researchers collected DNA fragments from ancient human remains across Greenland, Canada and Siberia.

"This is surprising, because every time people meet each other we find evidence of sex between the people," said Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist at the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen and an author of the study. "But here we have a unique situation, where even though we know they must have been in touch with their neighbors, they chose to live in isolation."

According to the study, Paleo-Eskimos arrived in the New World in a single migration, rather than in waves, as previously thought. 

"Certainly they survived for almost 5,000 years, so they weren't completely destroyed by inbreeding," Dr. Willerslev said. "But it causes a number of medical problems, and I wouldn't be surprised if that had an effect on them."

The study has been published in the journal Science

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