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Thread: DNA study to settle ancient mystery about mingling of Inuit, Vikings

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    Post DNA study to settle ancient mystery about mingling of Inuit, Vikings

    CNEWS Canada
    Mon, September 1, 2003

    DNA study to settle ancient mystery about mingling of Inuit, Vikings


    (CP) - A centuries-old Arctic mystery may be weeks away from resolution as an Icelandic anthropologist prepares to release his findings on the so-called "Blond Eskimos" of the Canadian North.

    "It's an old story," says Gisli Palsson of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. "We want to try to throw new light on the history of the Inuit." Stories about Inuit with distinct European features - blue eyes, fair hair, beards - living in the central Arctic have their roots in ancient tales of Norse settlements and explorations.

    "The Icelandic sagas, at several points, mention the Norse in Greenland meeting people who belong to other cultures," Palsson said.

    Although those settlements pushed ever westward from Greenland as early as the 9th and 10th century, they had mysteriously disappeared by the 15th. The fate of settlers - did they simply disappear into the local population? - is unknown.

    The Inuit tell legends of long-ago meetings with people from a strange culture.

    Tantalizing accounts of European-looking Inuit surface in the accounts of some of the earliest western Arctic explorers, including Sir John Franklin, who was later to lead the doomed Franklin Expedition.

    In the first decade of the last century, the famed Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson heard a rumour from a whaling captain about fair-haired people living among the Copper Inuit near what is now Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

    Stefansson, hungry for renown, used the rumour to raise money for an expedition to the area. In 1910, he finally caught up with the Inuit he sought.

    A documentary entitled Arctic Dreamer, which premieres Friday at the Montreal Film Festival, quotes Stefansson's journals on the meeting:

    "There were three men here whose beard is almost the same colour as mine and who look like typical Scandinavians," he wrote. "One woman has the delicate features one sees on Scandinavian girls."

    Stefansson speculated the people he met had descended from the inhabitants of the vanished Norse settlements. His theory thrust him onto the front pages of newspapers across the continents with headlines of a "lost white race."

    Palsson, with the help of biological anthropologist Agnar Helgason, has turned the light of DNA testing on Stefansson's speculations. Last year, he and his team took saliva samples from 350 Inuit in Cambridge Bay and Greenland and they have been comparing them with genetic markers known to have been prevalent in medieval Scandinavia.

    The present-day Inuit of the area don't look markedly different than other Inuit, Palsson says.

    "There has been lots of mixing over the last decades."

    As well, Palsson points out that Stefansson had backers to please and lecture halls to fill.

    "I'm not convinced that he actually saw Inuit who looked different than other Inuit. He may have exaggerated."


    Still, that doesn't mean Stefansson was wrong. Modern archeologists have lately found Norse remains and textiles as far west as Baffin Island.

    "Things like that testify to at least economic exchange," says Palsson. "None of this is actual proof, but I think Inuit and Norse must have met, at least in western Greenland."

    The last of Palsson's samples, which arrived in Iceland last month, are now being analysed. He expects to release his findings in October.

    Although Palsson's results won't be indisputable proof, they will offer a high degree of probability. And a finding that Inuit and Viking blood probably mixed a millennium ago will change our understanding of human mobility, says Palsson.

    "We now know the Inuit were not stationary and passive, outside of history," he says. "On the contrary, they were experimenting with travel routes and subsistence resources. And the same with the Norse.

    "There's a tendency to undermine the mobility of the species. Archeology and biological anthropology are increasingly demonstrating that regions that people thought were barriers were really migration routes.

    "And it may well be that we see the same results in the Arctic."
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    "There's a tendency to undermine the mobility of the species. Archeology and biological anthropology are increasingly demonstrating that regions that people thought were barriers were really migration routes."

    What's wrong with physical anthropology....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phlegethon
    CNEWS Canada
    Mon, September 1, 2003

    DNA study to settle ancient mystery about mingling of Inuit, Vikings

    DNA tests debunk blond Inuit legend

    Last Updated Tue, 28 Oct 2003 11:36:10

    CAMBRIDGE BAY, NUNAVUT - Two Icelandic scientists have shot holes in the theory of the missing Norse tribes of the Arctic.

    Agnar Helgason and Gisli Palsson say their DNA tests have failed to find any evidence that Europeans mingled genetically with Inuit half a millennium ago.

    The scientists made the statement after a visit to Cambridge Bay last week.

    Rumours of blue-eyed, blond-haired Inuit have circulated through the Arctic since the turn of the century.

    They were thought to possibly descend from a group of Norsemen who disappeared from a Greenland settlement 500 years ago.

    A well-known Canadian Arctic explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, hinted in his diaries he came across European-featured Inuit in the early 1900s in Western Nunavut.

    So Helgason and Palsson tested the theory by comparing DNA from 100 Cambridge Bay Inuit with Norse descendants from Iceland.

    They presented their findings in the Kitikmeot community last week.

    Helgason says his preliminary findings show there is no match between the Nunavut and Icelandic DNA.

    "Stefansson's hypothesis doesn't seem to be supported by the data at this point in time," he says. "But I wouldn't want to give a final death certificate for Stefansson's hypothesis at this point in time."

    Palsson, an anthropologist who translated Vilhjalmur Stefansson's diaries, says the explorer's claim to have seen the European-featured Inuit could have been a way to get additional funding for his exploration.

    "There was some peculiar western fascination with lost tribes and there still is," he says. "These are wild speculations and there's something in the western imaginations that has driven these speculations."

    Now, the two researchers are comparing the DNA they collected from Cambridge Bay Inuit to DNA from Greenland Inuit.
    They hope to find out more information on the migration patterns and history of Inuit in the circumpolar world.

    Helgason says it could reveal new chapters in the history of humanity.

    He says his final results should be ready in about two months.

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