Ancient Greenlander’s DNA reveals ugly mullet

Seriously, this is what I first thought when I saw the cover of this week’s Nature, and the associated drawings  in the press.  The dude’s haircut seems like it was even bad in the ’80s… 2080 BCE that is, which is when his body is dated. Approximately.

Inuk, artist's impression

A large group of researchers were involved in analyzing DNA from a 4,000 year old man found in Greenland. There is an interesting story on how the sample was obtained. Eske Villerslev spent 2 months looking for human remains in archaeological sites in Greenland, to no avail. When complaining about it to a friend, he learned that that friend’s father had already given hair samples to the national museum of Denmark… back  in 1986. Serious slap on the forehead!

The preserved DNA was of great quality. Also, this is 2010: we have a plethora of genotypic data that lets us associate a genome with phenotypes, and geographical origin. Inuk, as he was dubbed, shares many traits with east Asians, and much less with contemporary North American Inuit or other Native Americans. This means that Inuk and his people migrated fairly recently to Greenland from Siberia and across North America. Inuk and his people, the (now extinct) Saqqaq have no relationship to contemporary Native Americans. This was also shown in an earlier study of the mitochondrial DNA.

What do we know about Inuk himself? He had blood type A+; thick black hair and very likely a receding hairline due to a baldness allele; brown eyes; shovel-graded front teeth (East  Asian characteristic); dry type earwax… before you laugh that is actually, another characteristic of Asian populations on the Siberian and Chinese east coast. He also had alleles associates with human adaptation to cold temperatures.

And a bad haircut; but great press nevertheless (just got to Google News and search for  “Greenland Genome” – see, for example, the NYTimes.)

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Rasmussen, M., Li, Y., Lindgreen, S., Pedersen, J., Albrechtsen, A., Moltke, I., Metspalu, M., Metspalu, E., Kivisild, T., Gupta, R., Bertalan, M., Nielsen, K., Gilbert, M., Wang, Y., Raghavan, M., Campos, P., Kamp, H., Wilson, A., Gledhill, A., Tridico, S., Bunce, M., Lorenzen, E., Binladen, J., Guo, X., Zhao, J., Zhang, X., Zhang, H., Li, Z., Chen, M., Orlando, L., Kristiansen, K., Bak, M., Tommerup, N., Bendixen, C., Pierre, T., Grønnow, B., Meldgaard, M., Andreasen, C., Fedorova, S., Osipova, L., Higham, T., Ramsey, C., Hansen, T., Nielsen, F., Crawford, M., Brunak, S., Sicheritz-Pontén, T., Villems, R., Nielsen, R., Krogh, A., Wang, J., & Willerslev, E. (2010). Ancient human genome sequence of an extinct Palaeo-Eskimo Nature, 463 (7282), 757-762 DOI: 10.1038/nature08835

Gilbert MT, Kivisild T, Grønnow B, Andersen PK, Metspalu E, Reidla M, Tamm E, Axelsson E, Götherström A, Campos PF, Rasmussen M, Metspalu M, Higham TF, Schwenninger JL, Nathan R, De Hoog CJ, Koch A, Møller LN, Andreasen C, Meldgaard M, Villems R, Bendixen C, & Willerslev E (2008). Paleo-Eskimo mtDNA genome reveals matrilineal discontinuity in Greenland. Science (New York, N.Y.), 320 (5884), 1787-9 PMID: 18511654

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2 Responses to “Ancient Greenlander’s DNA reveals ugly mullet”

  1. lefty southpaw says:

    I have to say, I kind of like his haircut. It’s kind of Tyler Durden-ish with a hint of Bret Michaels

  2. Looks a bit like the Mongols, has that roughed look and cold-adapted.