Carsten Egevang
Paleo-Eskimos died out 700 years ago and share no genetic material with modern-day Inuit or First Nations peoples, a new study has found.

Science Catches Up With Inuit Oral History, 'Discovering' Ancient Paleo-Eskimos


Scientists looking into the genetics of ancient Arctic peoples have verified what Inuit history has long held: That earlier peoples from Siberia were the first to populate the most northern regions of planet Earth, and that they died out as the Inuit were coming in.

These Paleo-Eskimos, as they’re called, arrived about 5,000 years ago from Siberia, CBC News reported, migrating from Alaska to Greenland and living for about 4,000 years. They died out about 700 years ago, CBC News said. DNA testing on remains from that period showed no match to Inuit or First Nations people of today.

“Inuit still talk about the Tunit people they encountered when they arrived,” reported CBC News. “The oral tradition says the Tunit were very shy and would run away when approached.”

The findings, published in the journal Science on August 29, could settle a “long debate in Arctic archeology about the Paleo-Eskimos,” said study co-author Eske Willerslev,of the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen, to CBC News. “That is: are they actually representing a different indigenous population?”

The news was nothing new to the Inuit.

“Inuit hunters in the Canadian Arctic have long told stories about a mysterious ancient people known as the Tunit, who once inhabited the far north,” National Geographic said. “Tunit men, they recalled, possessed powerful magic and were strong enough to crush the neck of a walrus and singlehandedly haul the massive carcass home over the ice. Yet the stories described the Tunit as a reticent people who kept to themselves, avoiding contact with their neighbors.”

Also not new was the disdain of modern science—until analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the mother, became possible.

“Many researchers dismissed the tales as pure fiction,” National Geographic said.

So isolated were the Tunit that they did not even hook up with the Inuit, the DNA evidence shows.

"Elsewhere, as soon as people meet each other, they have sex," Willerslev told National Geographic. "Even potentially different species like Neanderthals [and modern humans] had sex, so this finding is extremely surprising."

The Tunit died out as mysteriously as they lived, vanishing without a trace after surviving successfully for 4,000 years. 

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French coyote's picture
French coyote
Submitted by French coyote on
The name those people called themselves died out with them. However, as they are remembered as the "Tunit" by "Neo-Eskimos", ah hum,, meaning the Inuit, they should be referred to as the Tunit, which is much better than "Paleo-Eskimos" or even than Dorset or Saqqaq as they are known by paleoanthropologists. BTW, what was the problem of the Inuit and Tunit? Too cold to make love? <grin>

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
I know my comment will sound as ridiculous as the day is long, but I'm a firm believer of DNA testing. Also I have witnessed at least one or two men in Wayne County, Ohio who have facial features that are truly like Neanderthals that we've all seen depictions of. Other people have seen this man or men. I can't remember whether it was one or two. Somewhere that trait must have been passed down and as of the 1990's was still observable in at least one man in that county.

Valerie Goodness
Valerie Goodness
Submitted by Valerie Goodness on
Not all original peoples (or Eurocentrically called "paleo-peoples")of the North Country are Inuit. To say so is political and used to take lands and resources, not to unite, to find truth and peace. Where are the Indigenous anthropologists and scientists voices here? This is a shock to the Euro community because their privilege has silenced these voices for hundreds of years. Climate change is perfect evidence of silencing the people of the north for so long that now our chances to save species necessary to culturally dependent peoples, are slim...It is and was purposeful for Eurocentric policies to ignore the first peoples' voices..

macedavidc's picture
Submitted by macedavidc on
i am slightly unclear about what is being said; the analysis of the underlying paper seems to be a little off ... the existence of the Dorset/Tunit/??? people has been known to archeological science for 100 years and it the Inuit legends of driving off/displacing them were generally accepted as true - evidence confirming the archeology ( the current paper merely adds evidence from another realm of science and confirms that they were a distinct people ... this paper would actually only seem to add DNA evidence to that