Scientists Rebuild Iceman Genome From Hair Sample
by Gregory Mone
Condensed by Native Village
An artist's drawing of Inuk
For the first time, scientists have rebuilt the genome
of an ancient human. The man, called Inuk, was a Palaeo-Eskimo
who lived about 4,000 years ago on the western coast of
belonged to the extinct Saqqaq culture, the first to
inhabit Greenland. He had brown eyes, brown skin,
shovel-shaped front teeth and a problem with dry earwax.
Inuk might have been going
bald, too, but he managed to leave behind a very
valuable clump of hair in the permafrost.
"We were dealing with very, very short pieces of DNA,"
said Eske Willerslev, one of the the 53
international scientists on the team. "It was a massive puzzle of 3.5 billion
pieces that you have to stick together in the right
The ancient DNA
offered other details such as metabolism and genetic
predispositions. "I was actually
quite surprised at the details we could get out of
this," Willerslev says. "I think it's quite amazing that
you could say that this guy had dry earwax."
also learned how the Saqqaq relates to other ancient and modern people.
It had been thought that the Saqqaq people
were ancestors of today's Inuit and Native Americans.
Now scientists believe that Inuk's ancestors migrated to the New
World from Siberia more than 4,400 years ago. "It was very clear that he's not ancestral to
modern people found in the New World," Willerslev notes.
"His closest relatives are three Siberian groups."
Inspired by their success with Inuk, Willerslev and his
team are now turning to South America. They will study 150 different ancient hair
samples collected across the continent. Some date back 8,000 years.
Scientist will address migration patterns -- and
something new. Willersley said. "We're looking into the
origin of clothes, and the clothes culture in the
The International team who studied Inuk's DNA are from
Denmark, the United States, China, Great Britain,
France and Russia. "It was a huge amount of people
involved in piecing all this together," Willerslev