An ancient mariner who lived and died 10,000 years ago on an island west of Ketchikan probably doesn’t have any close relatives left in Alaska.
But some of them migrated south and their descendants can be found today in coastal Native American populations in California, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina.
That’s some of what scientists learned this summer by examining the DNA of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians in Southeast Alaska.
Working with elders at a cultural festival in Juneau, they interviewed more than 200 Native Alaskans who allowed them to swab tiny amounts of saliva from their cheeks to capture their mitochondrial DNA, the genetic material that’s passed from mothers to children.
Bones of the ancient Alaskan were first discovered in 1996 by Alaska paleontologist Tim Heaton during an archaeological survey on the northern tip of Prince of Wales, the nation’s third largest island.
They are among the oldest human remains ever found in North America – a 13,000-year-old woman’s partial skeleton was discovered 50 years ago in an island cave off the south coast of California – and the oldest ever discovered in Alaska.
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