Ancient DNA provides insights into 4,000 years of resource economy across Greenland

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Seersholm et al. analysed permafrozen middens from Inuit and Viking settlements to uncover evidence of diet in prehistoric Greenland. Using ancient DNA, they identified 42 different species and found that whales were surprisingly common.

The success and failure of past cultures across the Arctic was tightly coupled to the ability of past peoples to exploit the full range of resources available to them. There is substantial evidence for the hunting of birds, caribou and seals in prehistoric Greenland. However, the extent to which these communities relied on fish and cetaceans is understudied because of taphonomic processes that affect how these taxa are presented in the archaeological record. To address this, we analyse DNA from bulk bone samples from 12 archaeological middens across Greenland covering the Palaeo-Inuit, Norse and Neo-Inuit culture. We identify an assemblage of 42 species, including nine fish species and five whale species, of which the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) was the most commonly detected. Furthermore, we identify a new haplotype in caribou (Rangifer tarandus), suggesting the presence of a distinct lineage of (now extinct) dwarfed caribou in Greenland 3,000 years ago.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)1723-1730
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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