‘The dy­nam­ics of hu­man move­ment’

Mul­ti­ple dis­tinct groups his­tor­i­cally pop­u­lated New­found­land, DNA study sug­gests

Cape Breton Post - - News | Cape Breton/Province -

About 5,000 years ago, af­ter mas­sive ice sheets from the Last Glacial Max­i­mum re­treated, the Mar­itime Ar­chaic peo­ples carved a liv­ing from the sea and wood­lands on New­found­land’s west coast.

It’s not clear where they came from or how they got there. But they left be­hind pol­ished slate spears, stone axes and the re­mains of an­cient fire­places in rows along the beach that hint at how they hunted seals and wild game.

At Port au Choix, north of to­day’s Gros Morne Na­tional Park, arche­ol­o­gists in 1968 re­cov­ered hun­dreds of ar­ti­facts. There were carved pen­dants re­sem­bling birds, shell beads, dec­o­ra­tive stones, quartz and amethyst crys­tals sug­gest­ing spir­i­tual rites of a well-es­tab­lished cul­ture.

This south­ern branch of the Mar­itime Ar­chaic mys­te­ri­ously van­ish from the arche­o­log­i­cal record some 3,000 years ago.

Still, it was widely spec­u­lated they were re­lated to the later Beothuks who thrived in New­found­land for hun­dreds of years be­fore Euro­peans ar­rived. They were grad­u­ally cut off from cru­cial fish­ing and hunt­ing grounds be­fore the last known Beothuk died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in 1829.

New ge­netic re­search pub­lished Thurs­day sug­gests the Mar­itime Ar­chaic were in fact dis­tinct from the Beothuk.

“This in turn im­plies that the is­land of New­found­land was pop­u­lated mul­ti­ple times by dis­tinct groups,” says molec­u­lar an­thro­pol­o­gist Ana Dug­gan, coau­thor of the study pub­lished in the jour­nal “Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy.”

“The dy­nam­ics of hu­man move­ment are prob­a­bly much more com­plex than we’ve ap­pre­ci­ated in the past,” she said in an in­ter­view from McMaster Univer­sity in Hamil­ton, Ont.

“The part that was the most in­trigu­ing for me was that, when we try and cal­cu­late back to where that com­mon ma­ter­nal an­ces­try might have been, it’s much older than I think we might have guessed.”

DNA passed from mothers to chil­dren was drawn from the bones and teeth of 74 in­di­vid­u­als. Those spec­i­mens, in­clud­ing 19 Beothuk sam­ples an­a­lyzed with the co-op­er­a­tion of In­dige­nous lead­ers in the prov­ince, in­di­cate the Mar­itime Ar­chaic share no re­cent ma­ter­nal an­ces­tor with the Beothuk who ar­rived much later.

Dug­gan fig­ures that com­mon gene pool dates back 10,000 years or more. “What this work has shown is that DNA has the abil­ity to an­swer ques­tions that the arche­o­log­i­cal record can’t.”

The study is called “Ge­netic Dis­con­ti­nu­ity between the Mar­itime Ar­chaic and Beothuk Pop­u­la­tions in New­found­land, Canada.”

As­sessed DNA in­cluded a sam­ple from a gravesite of an ado­les­cent in­di­vid­ual at L’Anse Amour in south­ern Labrador. It’s the old­est known burial mound in North Amer­ica and is be­lieved to date back about 7,700 years.

Two other sam­ples were from re­mains of the Palaeoeskimo peo­ples who in­hab­ited New­found­land af­ter the Mar­itime Ar­chaics left for rea­sons that aren’t clear.

“To some peo­ple, the Beothuk were just a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Mar­itime Ar­chaic and maybe they had moved off the is­land and went far­ther south be­cause of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing cli­mate at the time, but then they would have just come back on,” said Hen­drik Poinar, a pro­fes­sor of evo­lu­tion­ary ge­net­ics at McMaster Univer­sity.

“This says that they went off, but maybe they ended up in Nova Sco­tia or Maine and are linked to con­tem­po­rary peo­ples there to­day. But the Beothuk were clearly de­rived of a dif­fer­ent an­ces­tral group that came from some­where else.”

What does this mean for any­one now won­der­ing about their own her­itage?

Poinar said those are ques­tions still to be stud­ied

“I think as we start ac­quir­ing the ge­net­ics of th­ese an­cient re­mains, we can start bet­ter un­der­stand­ing that com­plex­ity. And if we can tie that in with con­tem­po­rary ge­net­ics — only if the con­tem­po­rary com­mu­ni­ties are in­ter­ested in and will­ing to do so — then we can def­i­nitely look for con­ti­nu­ity between th­ese pop­u­la­tions in present day peo­ple,” he said in an in­ter­view.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.