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Possible pre-Columbian Native American gene found in modern Icelanders
November 19, 2010 7:23 AM   Subscribe

An Icelandic company called deCODE genetics (previously) has found evidence, though not conclusive, that an unknown American woman traveled to Iceland, possibly against her will, as early the year 1000 but not later than 1700. She had offspring in Iceland with natives. 80 of her descendants are still extant in that country. This finding has been announced in a pre-print online publication of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The work involved explorations of mitochondrial DNA, which are frequently employed to examine humans' centuries-old lineages. One surprising result is that this lineage does not seem to line up with previously known Native American genetic markers, but the authors believe that the explanation above is "[more] likely" than this common ancestor being European or Asian. (Via Daily Mail.)

deCODE has also recently made the news by publishing a new, higher-resolution map of the human genome (Nature subscription required to view full article).
posted by knile (28 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are a whole lot of assumptions in that article.

But, heck, anytime I can find a coy looking, maybe naked woman with a big dead swan draped over her naked self, I'm good with it.
posted by HuronBob at 7:31 AM on November 19, 2010


She had offspring in Iceland with natives. 80 of her descendants are still extant in that country.

Not sure where that 80 comes from but, because of mixing, most likely everyone in Iceland is her descendant. The 80 may be referring to her matrilineal descendants though..
posted by vacapinta at 7:31 AM on November 19, 2010


In a parallel dimension, the international language of commerce is Cherokee.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:31 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but the Daily Mail wins the headline writing competition: First American in Europe 'was native woman kidnapped by Vikings and hauled back to Iceland 1,000 years ago'

Relatedly...
posted by chavenet at 7:34 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


vacapinta, the 80 figure came from the Daily Mail article. The abstract for the pre-print doesn't specify it, just that it's different & smaller in current population size than the other mtDNA lineages seen in most Icelanders. I couldn't find a press release from deCODE about this finding, so I don't know where the Mail got that number. Probably it's in the full article, which I can't access from my current institution, if it's already up on the AJPA site.
posted by knile at 7:37 AM on November 19, 2010


I think this goes to show that what people consider as racial identity is more muddled than they want to admit.
And unless they have some sort of recorded information that shows that this woman was a slave captured and then bred (yes, uncomfortable), then the phrase "possibly against her will" is just attention-grabbing and an equally valid "ran away from home to escape an arrange marriage" could be used.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:39 AM on November 19, 2010


Mitochondrial DNA? So they all have The Force?
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:41 AM on November 19, 2010


Also related... Pilgrims and Indians in her family tree
posted by chavenet at 7:45 AM on November 19, 2010


Geneticists (especially doCODE) have a long history of assuming, against all evidence to the contrary, that no one ever immigrated to Iceland after the 9th and 10th Century settlements of Iceland. I have several non-Icelandic ancestors, including, for example, a Dutch Jewish merchant who settled in Iceland in the 17th Century. It is much likelier that someone who had Native American heritage settled in Iceland or had a child with an Icelander in the 16th or 17th Century and that explains the link. It's also possible that it isn't possible that there was intermingling between Norse Greenlanders and Native Americans and then intermingling between Norse Greenlanders and Icelanders. Both of these are considerably more likely than a Native American woman immigrating (voluntarily or not) to Iceland in the 10th Century.
posted by Kattullus at 7:46 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


The island of Newfoundland (originally called Terra Nova, from "New Land" in Latin) was originally discovered by the icelandic viking called Leif Eriksson in the 11th century, who called the new land "Vinland". [...] It is probable that the natives described by the Norsemen as skraelings were Beothuk people of Labrador and Newfoundland. The first conflicts between Europeans and native peoples may have occurred around 1006 at L'Anse aux Meadows when parties of Norsemen attempted to establish permanent settlements along the coast of Newfoundland. According to the Icelandic sagas, the native skraelings responded so ferociously that the newcomers eventually withdrew and apparently gave up their original intentions to settle. (WikiPedia)

Lines up. What's interesting is that the Beothuk are now extinct (nice going, Britain!); a surviving bloodline would be kind of neat.

Probably just Thule, though; that's kind of a big old yeah, so? I mean, they're just a few miles over there, y'know?

And then there's my crazy hypothesis that I don't mention on account of it's so crazy: That maybe the "sea peoples" described in ancient Egyptian texts were, like, not from around those parts.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:49 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


But, heck, anytime I can find a coy looking, maybe naked woman with a big dead swan draped over her naked self, I'm good with it.

Fleshtone bodysuit, FWIW.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:55 AM on November 19, 2010


Given that this is a previously unknown subclade of C1, I wonder what the chances are that this woman was Dorset? That would be interesting, but I'm assuming very difficult to prove.
posted by [citation needed] at 8:00 AM on November 19, 2010


Another story about DeCODE and Iceland: DeCODE has created a genetic database of everyone in the country (note that the linked article was written before the database was created—but it has been created). This is probably how they were able to figure out there are 80 descendants of the American woman.
posted by adamrice at 8:02 AM on November 19, 2010


Seriously, that she "travelled against her will" seems like a huge assumption to me. Vikings (especially those that settled in Iceland) had the highest standards of hygiene of any culture of the time - they bathed quite often, and washed and brushed their hair and beards every day. When Vikings arrived on the British Isles, contemporary authors noted that women admired them greatly over any native sons.

Not to mention that Iceland had an unusually strong and well-developed democracy, plus natural hot springs? Damn, I'd be on the first boat out.
posted by muddgirl at 8:26 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Finally, does this explain Bjork?"
posted by iamck at 8:27 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The headline of 1000 years looks suspicously close to the Leif Eriksson/L'Anse aux Medows settlement. I suspect a little writing for effect is happening here. My impression of mitochondrial aging studies is that these times have a fair bit of uncertainty. The authors say in their abstract:

Our results indicate a latest possible arrival date in Iceland of just prior to 1700 and a likely arrival date centuries earlier.

So this looks a lot to me like a reporter looking for a headline and making a bit of hay. From the authors own statement, it looks like there's a window of several centuries and several possible origins of the mDNA.

Does someone have access to the full text? Are the authors indeed claiming a thousand-year interval as the most likely? What's their reported uncertainty?

I wonder if I should get tested. I'm a direct-but-one decendent of Eriksson.
posted by bonehead at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2010


I assume she was a Cylon.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


There is a lot of criticism of mDNA being used in research like this. Basically, a good number of anthropologists simply don't think the the assumptions around how mDNA describes lineages can be supported by evidence outside of mDNA research.

Unfortunately, none of the popular science sites seem to mention this. Which is unfortunate, because many of the results announced by using mDNA techniques are quite sensational, and make for compelling and interesting science news.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:59 AM on November 19, 2010


There is a lot of criticism of mDNA being used in research like this. Basically, a good number of anthropologists simply don't think the the assumptions around how mDNA describes lineages can be supported by evidence outside of mDNA research.

Should I be more suspicious of the mDNA, or the anthropologists?
posted by rodgerd at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Vikings (especially those that settled in Iceland) had the highest standards of hygiene of any culture of the time

I'm sure European sailors were Mr. Clean compared to the people they met in Africa, but until I see some old romance stone tablets with Viking sailors' hair blowing in the breeze, I think Occam's Razor does suggest while mysterious strangers who look nothing like you showing up in a giant dragon boat would have maidens running quickly, it would be in the opposite direction.
posted by yerfatma at 10:26 AM on November 19, 2010


Yeah, we've been hearing a lot of this. Many people are skeptical, and think a more likely explanation would be the Greenland Settlers coming back with Inuit(s) or children they had with Inuit(s). As explained by one person on Facebook who sounds a lot smarter than me:
The haplogroup C is found in many of the Tungusic and Chukotko-Kamchatkan people, which are unlikely candidates for the source of the mutation in Icelanders, I would assume. The Nganasan people (who are Samoyedic, i.e. Uralic, i.e. [at least lingustically] related to Finns) also bear the C haplotype. That could have made its way into Sámi populations and then directly to Iceland.

The haplogroup C is uncommon throughout North America, being most common in the southern points of South America. However, it is most common in North America among Inuit populations. So it could mean that the norse Greenlandic settlement brought about the mutations.
It should also be noted that of all the things the Icelanders wrote about their journey to and from Vínland, there was no mention of having "kidnapped" a Native American woman, or even of one coming back for the ride.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:35 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should I be more suspicious of the mDNA, or the anthropologists?
The point is that there is significant disagreement among anthropologists whether mDNA techniques like this are valid. The discipline is not in any sort of agreement that mDNA means what articles like this suggest it means.

So, what we have is a situation where those researchers that do agree with it use it quite broadly, and without acknowledging that there are many peers who have serious problems with how it is used.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2010


*I think Occam's Razor does suggest while mysterious strangers who look nothing like you showing up in a giant dragon boat would have maidens running quickly, it would be in the opposite direction.*

They took the dragon part off when they approached land, so as not to skeeve out the land spirits. So it's more like a bunch of tall, blond people with funny clothing beached, got some fresh water and went foraging and had a conversation that went something like this:

"By Thor, Olaf, Eric wasn't full of bullshit. And did you see the local cod fishing?"

That being said, when I lest met a Scandinavian travelling loose in Vinland I went *towards* the boat, or whatever luggage lifting metaphor you want. So I'm biased.
posted by Phalene at 2:59 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since Viking ruins in Newfoundland have been widely accepted, it's not hard to imagine some wayward lass like Sakakawea trudging back to a fabled land of (comparative) wealth.

What's hard is -not- to imagine that a few people migrated/drifted widely -in every time-, -all over the world-. E.g. your redheads in China. After all ... how else did we get smeared everywhere?


posted by Twang at 3:00 PM on November 19, 2010


The Wiki reading on the history of Arctic settlement was fascinating. There were people there contemporaneous with Old Testament stories. Its a shame we don't have their stories, too. Was there a Dorset Moses?

The spread of the human races fascinates me.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:35 PM on November 19, 2010


I have full access to the article. Vacapinta is correct that the 80 figure (actually 76) describes the matrilineal descendants. The authors conclude, "We propose that the most likely hypothesis is that the Icelandic voyages to the Eastern coastline of the Americas resulted in the migration of at least one Native American woman carrying the C1e lineage to Iceland around the year 1000."
posted by oceano at 9:12 PM on November 19, 2010


The Wiki reading on the history of Arctic settlement was fascinating. There were people there contemporaneous with Old Testament stories. Its a shame we don't have their stories, too. Was there a Dorset Moses?

The really interesting bit, I think, comes much later:

The northwestward spread of the Thule from Alaska to Greenland in the 13th Century coincides exactly with the spread of the Mongol Empire throughout Asia, and seems to have operated in a similar manner: The Mongol article states, "Under the Mongols, new technologies, various commodities and ideologies were disseminated and exchanged across Eurasia." Compare with this section of the Dorset article.

I can't help but wonder if there might be a wee bit of a connection there.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:47 AM on November 21, 2010


Interesting!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:55 PM on November 21, 2010


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