The Utilization of Resources to Help Early Greenlanders Survive
Researchers have discovered that early humans in Greenland consumed a diet that was far more diversified than previously thought.
How early humans might have endured in such a harsh environment has long been a mystery to researchers who study the history of Greenland. The Saqqaq, the Dorset, the Norse, and the Thuly are the four largest migrations to Greenland, according to earlier studies. Only the Thule settled down permanently. The Saqqaq people, the first tribe, arrived in Greenland around 4,500 years ago and stayed there for 1,700 years before a severe chilling spell pushed them out.
Despite having few tools, previous study has revealed that they consumed fish, seals, and possibly even some types of whales. In a recent study1, researchers examined the Saqqaq diet and the diets of the various groups that followed them in greater detail. Their approach involves doing a DNA analysis on bone pieces gathered from middens, an archeological term for piles of bones that people left behind after meals and otherwise disposed of, or food waste.
The authors were able to identify 42 kinds of organisms eaten by early humans after examining over 2,500 bone fragments, several of which were unexpected. The scientists discovered reindeer DNA from an extinct animal that was significantly smaller than the modern-day reindeer found in Greenland. Additionally, they discovered signs of fin, sperm, narwhal, and bowhead whales. The researchers remark that bowhead were most common, which makes sense given that they are generally simple to kill.
In total, the researchers discovered evidence of 20 different mammal species, nine different fish species (including a startling amount of very small fish, indicating the use of nets), and 13 different bird species. The researchers remark that the DNA evidence sheds insight on the technical prowess of those who were successful in hunting these creatures in addition to the types of critters that were captured and consumed by early people.
Seersholm, F. V., Harmsen, H., Gotfredsen, A. B., Madsen, C. K., Jensen, J. F., Hollesen, J., Meldgaard, M., Bunce, M., & Hansen, A. J. (2022). Ancient DNA provides insights into 4,000 years of resource economy across Greenland. Nature Human Behaviour. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-022-01454-z