Scientists discovered that the Paleo-Eskimo peoples, a reclusive culture who inhabited New World regions of the arctic circle until about 700 years ago, were definitively one of the first peoples to explore, pioneer, and settle in North America.
In a study spearheaded by the University of Copenhagen’s Center for GeoGenetics, scientists discovered that the Paleo-Eskimo peoples, a reclusive culture who inhabited New World regions of the arctic circle until about 700 years ago, were definitively one of the first peoples to explore, pioneer, and settle in North America.
“Our genetic studies show that, in reality, the Paleo-Eskimos – representing one single group – were the first people in the Arctic, and they survived without outside contact for over 4,000 years,” said Eske Willerslev, a professor at the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen and co-author on the study, in a statement.
The scientists say the genetics of Arctic people indicates there were three separate ancestral lineages that colonized the Arctic circle thousands of years ago.
“The genetics reveals that there must have been at least three separate pulses of migration from Siberia into the Americas and the Arctic. First came the ancestors of today’s Native Americans, then came the Paleo-Eskimos, and finally the ancestors of today’s Inuit,” said Willerslev.
The revelation confirms ancient Inuit lore that has been passed down through the tribe orally over the years: the Paleo-Eskimo people existed distinctly, both culturally and genetically from the Inuits.
The arrival of Inuits to North America coincides with the demise of the Paleo-Eskimo peoples, however, the two groups interacted enough for legends to arise. According to the ancient Inuit myths, the Paleo-Eskimos were referred to as “Tunit” or “Sivullirmiut,” which translates to “first inhabitants”; the Tunit people are described as skittish giants by the Inuit– taller and stronger, but would abandon settlements quickly whenever contact with outsiders occurred. Soon after the Inuit arrived to North America approximately 700 years ago, the Tunit people vanished altogether,the nature of the disappearance is still a mystery.
“Ever since the discovery of a Paleo-Eskimo culture in the North American Arctic in 1925, archaeologists have been mystified by their relationship with the Thule culture ancestors of the modern Inuit. Paleo-Eskimo culture was replaced rapidly around AD 1300-1400, their only traces being references to ‘Tunit’ in Inuit mythology and adoption of some elements of Dorset technology,” said Dr. William Fitzhugh, from the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian Institute, in a statement.
“This new genomic research settles outstanding issues in Arctic archaeology that have been debated for nearly a century, finding that Paleo-Eskimo and Neo-Eskimo people were genetically distinct, with separate origins in Eastern Siberia, and the Paleo-Eskimo remained isolated in the Eastern Arctic for thousands of years with no significant mixing with each other or with American Indians, Norse, or other Europeans.”