DNA deepens mystery of lost Beothuk people in Newfoundland
Ingeborg Marshall still remembers the day, 18 years ago, when she was presented with a single strand of hair clipped from Shanawdithit, the last known member of the Beothuk, the now-vanished Indigenous people of Newfoundland.
The hair had apparently been passed down for generations by the family of a doctor who saw Shanawdithit before she died of tuberculosis in a St. John’s hospital in 1829. For Ms. Marshall, an anthropologist and authority on the grim history of the Beothuk, the unusual heirloom sparked an intriguing question: Would it be possible to extract DNA from such a sample and decode the genetic history of Newfoundland’s pre-European inhabitants?
Ms. Marshall soon learned that a piece of cut hair without its root would not provide the information she sought. But the longrunning scientific quest she embarked on then has now borne surprising fruit.
In a study co-authored by Ms. Marshall and published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology, researchers have, for the first time, managed to sequence DNA retrieved from the remains of several Beothuk individuals along with those from an older, prehistoric culture that existed in Newfoundland thousands of years earlier.
The results suggest the two groups are not closely related. In fact, the Beothuk are so genetically unlike the people that preceded them that their last common ancestor probably lived 10,000 years ago, when humans were first spreading across the Americas.
» White House officials did not mention any specifics about a shootout in their public statements.
Meantime, U.S. President Donald Trump claimed his newfound clout with Pakistan had led to the hostage release, while his chief of staff, John Kelly, was ambiguous, saying only that his government and Pakistan worked together as “partners.”
“Thank God that the Pakistani officials have – took them into custody, so to speak, from the forces of evil in that part of the world,” he said.
The federal government said Canada helped achieve a resolution. “Canada has been extremely actively engaged in this case for the past five years,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Mexico City, where she was engaged in free-trade negotiations. She added: “No ransom was paid. Canada has been very clear that we do not believe in paying ransoms.”
The Haqqani network is formally designated in the United States and Canada as a terrorist group – an overt declaration that any direct dealings with the group ought to be considered off the table for anyone in North America. Such designations exist to help federal officials seize assets, or facilitate federal prosecutions against anyone who helps the group in any material way.
A notorious and powerful clan of armed militants, the Haqqani network has footholds on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Formed during the 1980s Afghan fight against the Soviet occupation, the Haqqanis aligned with the Taliban as it took over Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The group has close ties to Pakistani intelligence, according to security officials.
Late Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Mr. Boyle refused to board a U.S. transport plane outbound from Pakistan, for fear he would be taken into custody by the U.S. government for his past connection to a notorious Canadian family.
In the late 2000s, Mr. Boyle was married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen held in Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade. The couple divorced in 2010.
Mr. Boyle’s hesitation to board a U.S. plane amounted to a lastminute wrinkle in a saga that has been playing out behind the scenes for half a decade as multiple governments have grappled with possible solutions.
In 2013, a Pentagon group headed by a former special forces officer, Jason Amerine, was assigned to develop options to free a captive American soldier.
That soldier was freed in an apparent prisoner swap with the Taliban. But Mr. Amerine has since gone public with an account of how his mission had once morphed into talk of a “one-for-seven” deal that would have swapped seven Westerners for one Taliban warlord.
Mr. Boyle, Ms. Coleman and another Canadian were part of these negotiations, Mr. Amerine has said. So was another Canadian – Colin Rutherford – who was captured in similar circumstances to Mr. Boyle’s before being released in 2016. At the time, the newly elected Liberal government thanked Qatar for brokering a deal.
On Thursday, Patrick Boyle told the Toronto Star he received a phone call from his son after his release. Joshua Boyle relayed that he and his family were freed while travelling in the trunk of a car driven by his abductors. He says he heard gunshots as the abductors were killed in a shootout with the Pakistani military.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Canada, Tariq Azim Khan, also said the rescue effort involved a shootout. “Without knowing the full details, I understand there was an operation and there was a shooting. … How many of them were killed? I’m not aware at the moment,” Mr. Khan said.
A still from a video posted by the Taliban on social media on Dec. 19, 2016, shows American Caitlan Coleman, left, speaking next to her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, and their two sons. The couple has since had a daughter who was born within the past few weeks.