Research Matters

Research Matters

Prehistoric Genome

John Hoopes recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica where he and colleagues evaluated puzzling stone orbs for UNESCO < the United Nations cultural organization.

Aired February 14, 2010

2 minutes (2.7 MB) | Download mp3


An international team has sequenced the genome of a 4,000-year-old human. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

KU anthropology researcher Michael Crawford has contributed to breakthrough research mapping the genome of a member of a prehistoric Eskimo culture, known as the Saqqaq.

Crawford: The consortium was able to extract very high quality DNA from hair from an individual, who's been termed "Inuk," who is 4,000 years old. Because of the permafrost in Greenland, they were able to extract and sequence about 80 percent of the genome of Inuk.

Because he has collected DNA from populations around the Arctic Circle, Crawford helped the team genetically link the ancient Inuk to people living in Siberia today.

Crawford: I was able to provide specific samples from the contemporary populations that could be compared with a 4,000-year old Eskimo, and allow us to statistically see how this individual clusters in regards to other populations.

A surprise to anthropologists was evidence that Inuk and his people migrated to North America from Asia about 5,000 years ago - long after the land bridge connecting Alaska to Asia had been submerged under the Bering Strait.

Crawford: Most of us had pretty well agreed that there was only one basic migration into the Americas, about 20,000 years ago. But it turned out that this particular paleo Eskimo was closest genetically to the Chukchi populations that are found on the Chukchi Peninsula, closest to where Beringia used to be - the Bering land mass. What this means is that the paelo-Eskimos, the ones represented by Inuk, migrated out of Siberia about 5,000-5,500 years ago. This is much later.

For more on "Inuk," log onto Research Matters dot K-U dot E-D-U. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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