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Ancient Greenlander’s DNA a surprise

February 12th, 2010
Prehistoric Greenland Man, 'Inuk'
Artist’s rendition of
ancient Greenlander

An analysis of an ancient Greenlander’s DNA (from a hair sample) yielded a surprise – that he was unrelated to modern, native Greenlanders and apparently was from a group that migrated from Siberia more recently than known ancestors of Native Americans. Researchers believe the group came from Siberia about 5,500 years ago and the man whose DNA was analyzed lived about 4,000 years ago.

This obviously blows up some previous assumptions about ancient migrations, etc., and I believe there will be many more surprises to be found in human DNA over the next couple of decades, revealing unexpected ancestries, migrations and more. Sure, 90% of archaeology, prehistory will remain the same, but 10% might need totally rewritten. Do South American natives have a small amount of Polynesian ancestry? Do Europeans carry any Neanderthal DNA at all? Mitochondrial DNA studies say something, but they don’t reveal the whole picture. Genetic contributors may leave no trace of mitochondrial DNA, though they contributed nuclear DNA. In fact, male-only contributors would leave no mitochondrial DNA trace at all, since mitochondrial DNA is only inherited through the mother. And simple genetic drift could easily wipe out maternal mitochondrial DNA contribution from female contributors, while the untested nuclear DNA contribution persists.

On a related note, who were the Clovis people? This finding with the ancient Greenlander DNA certainly lends credibility to the theories of the Clovis people being a genetically separate group who found the Americas on their own and died out or were assimilated into later migrations of the ancestors of modern Native Americans.

Ancient human genome sequence of an extinct Palaeo-Eskimo (Nature)

Ancient Greenland gene map reveals surprise (TimesofMalta.com)

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