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Science Catches Up With Inuit Oral History, 'Discovering' Ancient Paleo-Eskimos

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Scientists looking into the genetics of ancient Arctic peoples have verified what Inuit history has long held: That earlier peoples from Siberia were the first to populate the most northern regions of planet Earth, and that they died out as the Inuit were coming in.

These Paleo-Eskimos, as they’re called, arrived about 5,000 years ago from Siberia, CBC News reported, migrating from Alaska to Greenland and living for about 4,000 years. They died out about 700 years ago, CBC News said. DNA testing on remains from that period showed no match to Inuit or First Nations people of today.

“Inuit still talk about the Tunit people they encountered when they arrived,” reported CBC News. “The oral tradition says the Tunit were very shy and would run away when approached.”

The findings, published in the journal Science on August 29, could settle a “long debate in Arctic archeology about the Paleo-Eskimos,” said study co-author Eske Willerslev,of the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen, to CBC News. “That is: are they actually representing a different indigenous population?”

The news was nothing new to the Inuit.

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“Inuit hunters in the Canadian Arctic have long told stories about a mysterious ancient people known as the Tunit, who once inhabited the far north,” National Geographic said. “Tunit men, they recalled, possessed powerful magic and were strong enough to crush the neck of a walrus and singlehandedly haul the massive carcass home over the ice. Yet the stories described the Tunit as a reticent people who kept to themselves, avoiding contact with their neighbors.”

Also not new was the disdain of modern science—until analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the mother, became possible.

“Many researchers dismissed the tales as pure fiction,” National Geographic said.

So isolated were the Tunit that they did not even hook up with the Inuit, the DNA evidence shows.

"Elsewhere, as soon as people meet each other, they have sex," Willerslev told National Geographic. "Even potentially different species like Neanderthals [and modern humans] had sex, so this finding is extremely surprising."

The Tunit died out as mysteriously as they lived, vanishing without a trace after surviving successfully for 4,000 years.