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The Paleo-Eskimo (also pre-Thule or pre-Inuit) were the peoples who inhabited the Arctic region from Chukotka (e.g., Chertov Ovrag) in present-day Russia[1] across North America to Greenland prior to the arrival of the modern Inuit (Eskimo) and related cultures. The first known Paleo-Eskimo cultures developed by 2500 BCE, but were gradually displaced in most of the region, with the last one, the Dorset culture, disappearing around 1500 CE.

Paleo-Eskimo groups included the Pre-Dorset; the Saqqaq culture of Greenland (2500 – 800 BCE); the Independence I and Independence II cultures of northeastern Canada and Greenland (c. 2400 – 1800 BCE and c. 800 – 1 BCE); the Groswater of Labrador and Nunavik, and the Dorset culture (500 BCE to 1500 CE), which spread across Arctic North America. The Dorset were the last major Paleo-Eskimo culture in the Arctic before the migration east from present-day Alaska of the Thule, the ancestors of the modern Inuit.[2]


The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) has proposed that scientists use Inuit and Paleo-Inuit instead of Eskimo or Paleo-Eskimo.[3] The archaeologist Max Friesen has argued for the ICC's terminology to be adopted.[4][5]

Archaeological cultures[edit]

According to Pavel Flegontov,

"Paleo-Eskimo archeological cultures are grouped under the Arctic Small Tool tradition (ASTt), and include the Denbigh, Choris, Norton, and Ipiutak cultures in Alaska, and the Saqqaq, Independence, Pre-Dorset, and Dorset cultures in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. The ASTt source has been argued to lie in the Syalakh-Bel’kachi-Ymyakhtakh culture sequence of East Siberia, dated to 6,500 – 2,800 calBP."[6]

Use of bow and arrows[edit]

The relatively rapid spread of Paleo-Eskimos from Alaska as far as Greenland and Labrador may have been helped by their use of the bow and arrows. They are credited with introducing this technology to populations in Eastern Canada by 4,000 YPB.[7]

First ancient human to have genome sequenced[edit]

In February 2010, scientists reported they had performed the first genome sequencing of an ancient human. Using fragments of hair 4,000 years old, the National Museum of Denmark, the Beijing Genomics Institute, and additional collaborating scientific institutions sequenced nearly 80% of a Paleo-Eskimo man's genome. The man was found in Greenland and believed to be from the prehistoric Saqqaq culture.

Based on the genome, the scientists believe there was a distinct, separate migration of peoples from Siberia to North America some 5,500 years ago. They noted that this was independent of earlier migrations, whose descendants comprised the historic cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, as well as of the later migration by the Inuit. By 4,500 years ago, descendants of this migration had reached Greenland. The remains used for analysis were found in a Saqqaq culture area.[8]

The scientists reported that the man, dubbed "Inuk" (the Inuktitut word for "person"), had A+ blood type and genes suggesting he was adapted to cold weather, had brown eyes, brownish skin, and dark hair, and would have likely balded later in life. This marked the first sequencing of an ancient human's genome and the first sequencing of an ancient human's mitochondrial genome.[8]

Paleo-Eskimo, Athabaskans, and Eskimo-Aleut[edit]

A 2017 study identifies Paleo-Eskimo ancestry in Athabaskans, as well as in other Na-Dene-speaking populations.[4] The authors note that the Paleo-Eskimo peoples lived alongside Na-Dene ancestors for millennia. Thus, there's new evidence of a genetic connection between Siberian and Na-Dene populations mediated by Paleo-Eskimos.

According to these scholars, in general, the Paleo-Eskimos had large proportions of Beringian (which includes Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Eskimo-Aleut), Siberian, and South-East Asian ancestry.

In 2019, scholars concluded that the Palaeo-Eskimo people were the ancestors not only of modern Na-Dene-speaking peoples, but also of the Eskimo-Aleut speakers.[9] But this contribution did not come directly; rather, there was a 'Neo-Eskimo' intermediary.

According to Flegontov et al, the later Old Bering Sea archaeological culture came as a result of back-and-forth migrations across the Bering Strait by the tribes associated with the Arctic Small Tool tradition, or their descendants (Old Whaling, Choris, Norton culture, from 3,100-2,500 cal. yr BP).[10] These peoples were mixing with the Chukotko-Kamchatkan speakers of Siberia. Eventually, the Old Bering Sea archaeological culture became the ancestor of the Yupik and Inuit, the speakers of Eskimo–Aleut languages.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sea mammal hunters of Chukotka, Bering Strait: Recent archaeological results and problems by SV Gusev, AV Zagoroulko & AV Porotov
  2. ^ "The Prehistory of Greenland" Archived 2008-05-16 at the Wayback Machine, Greenland Research Centre, National Museum of Denmark, accessed April 14, 2010.
  3. ^ "Resolution 2010-01 on the use of the term Inuit in scientific and other circles" (PDF). Inuit Circumpolar Council. 2010.[dead link]
  4. ^ a b Flegontov, Pavel; et al. (2017). "Paleo-Eskimo genetic legacy across North America" (PDF). doi:10.1101/203018.
  5. ^ Friesen, T. Max; Mason, Owen K., eds. (2016). The Oxford Handbook of the Prehistoric Arctic. Oxford University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-19-976695-6.
  6. ^ Pavel Flegontov et al (2017), Paleo-Eskimo genetic legacy across North America. doi:10.1101/203018
  7. ^ Pavel Flegontov, N. Ezgi Altınışık, Piya Changmai, Edward J. Vajda, Johannes Krause, Stephan Schiffels (2016), Na-Dene populations descend from the Paleo-Eskimo migration into America.
  8. ^ a b Rasmussen, M.; Li, Y.; Lindgreen, S.; Pedersen, JS.; Albrechtsen, A.; Moltke, I.; Metspalu, M.; Metspalu, E.; et al. (Feb 2010). "Ancient human genome sequence of an extinct Palaeo-Eskimo". Nature. 463 (7282): 757–62. doi:10.1038/nature08835. PMC 3951495. PMID 20148029.
  9. ^ Stone, Anne C. (2019). "The lineages of the first humans to reach northeastern Siberia and the Americas". Nature. 570 (7760): 170–172. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01374-5. ISSN 0028-0836.
  10. ^ Long-standing dispute about North American prehistory (see maps at the end of the article)
  11. ^ Long-standing dispute about North American prehistory