Research on a newly discovered 9000-year-old childhood teeth has transformed our understanding of Alaskan's ancient people, their genetic background and…
Research on a newly discovered 9000-year-old childhood teeth has transformed our understanding of Alaskan’s ancient people, their genetic background and their diets.
The tooth is just the third known remnant of a population of early immigrants known as ancient Beringians. Combined with earlier University of Alaska Fairbanks surveys indicate the function that ancient Beringians remain in Alaska for thousands of years after they first moved over the Bering Land Bridge that linked East Asia and Alaska.
Examination of the tooth is performed by researchers at UAF and National Park Service in Alaska was part of a larger paper published November 8th in the journal Science . That survey included genetic analysis of 1
5 different bone samples from locations in North and South America, revealing a broad picture of how America populated its earliest people.
The Alaska tooth had been largely forgotten since it was dug out in 1949 by Danish archaeologists from the Trail Creek Caves site on the Alaska Seward Peninsula. For almost 70 years, it remains stored in Copenhagen, Denmark, until found in 2016 by Jeff Rasic, a Fairbanks-based NPS archaeologist who conducted new analyzes of this old collection.
Radiocarbon dating decided the teeth belonging to a 1½ year old child, by far the oldest human example in the North American arctic – more than twice as old as the next oldest remnant. Genomic testing coupled the tooth to the old bering line. The first traces of that population were discovered in 2013 by a team led by Professor Ben Potter of UAF at a place in Alaskan’s interior.
“This little tooth is a source of taxation of information about Alaskan’s early populations, not just their genetic affinities but also their movements, interactions with other people and diets,” Rasic said.
Looking at each other, the two sides – separated by about 400 miles and 2500 years – show that the ancient beings were present over the vast expansion of Alaska for millennia.
“This new discovery confirms our predictions that the ancient berths are directly linked to the cultural group called Denali Complex, which was widespread in Alaska and the Yukon Territory from 12,500 to about 6000 years ago,” said Potter, who was not involved in scientific paper.
Researchers worked with tribal officials from Seward Peninsula village Deering to coordinate efforts to study the teeth.
Analysis at the UAF Alaskan Stable Isotope Facility also revealed surprising details about the child’s life and, by proxy, the mother who fed the child. By studying chemical signatures preserved in the teeth, ASIF director Matthew Wooller could analyze his diet.
“The children‘s food sources were completely terrestrial, a sharp contrast to other sites indicating that anadromous fish and marine resources are included.” said Wooller, who also works at the UAF Fisheries and Sea Sciences College and the Water and Environmental Research Center.
The land-based diet is a surprise – while the child lived in the Seward Peninsula, sea levels have risen to almost modern levels. The rising waters had cut off the Bering Land Bridge and surrounded most of the peninsula, which meant that marine resources were available.
Further isotopic results and modeling, conducted by Rasic, Wooller and Clement Bataille of Ottawa University, also determined the family lived in the region around the caves and were not immigrants from elsewhere in Alaska or Siberia.
“The combination of isotope signatures found in the tooth is quite specific to the inner Seward peninsula, which makes a local origin for the family very likely,” said Bataille.