mtDNA Variation among Greenland Eskimos: The Edge of the
Beringian Expansion

Juliette Saillard,1 Peter Forster,2 Niels Lynnerup,1 Hans-Jürgen Bandelt,3 and Søren Nørby1

1Laboratory of Biological Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen; 2McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge; and 3Department of Mathematics, University of Hamburg, Hamburg

Received February 16, 2000; accepted for publication July 12, 2000; electronically published August 2, 2000.

The Eskimo-Aleut language phylum is distributed from coastal Siberia across Alaska and Canada to Greenland and is well distinguished from the neighboring Na Dene languages. Genetically, however, the distinction between Na Dene and Eskimo-Aleut speakers is less clear. In order to improve the genetic characterization of Eskimos in general and Greenlanders in particular, we have sequenced hypervariable segment I (HVS-I) of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region and typed relevant RFLP sites in the mtDNA of 82 Eskimos from Greenland. A comparison of our data with published sequences demonstrates major mtDNA types shared between Na Dene and Eskimo, indicating a common Beringian history within the Holocene. We further confirm the presence of an Eskimo-specific mtDNA subgroup characterized by nucleotide position 16265G within mtDNA group A2. This subgroup is found in all Eskimo groups analyzed so far and is estimated to have originated <3,000 years ago. A founder analysis of all Eskimo and Chukchi A2 types indicates that the Siberian and Greenland ancestral mtDNA pools separated around the time when the Neo-Eskimo culture emerged. The Greenland mtDNA types are a subset of the Alaskan mtDNA variation: they lack the groups D2 and D3 found in Siberia and Alaska and are exclusively A2 but at the same time lack the A2 root type. The data are in agreement with the view that the present Greenland Eskimos essentially descend from Alaskan Neo-Eskimos. European mtDNA types are absent in our Eskimo sample