When we first started archaeological work at Nuvuk, it took a while to find a physical anthropologist who was willing to work with the human remains here in Barrow. Dennis O’ Rourke and his team were willing to do that. Dennis came up to Barrow to speak to the community and the Elders to get their permission. His lab works with genetic studies as well as skeletal material, and he asked if they would be interested in allowing ancient DNA studies on the remains from Nuvuk. The Elders were not only interested in those studies, they suggested that the group undertake a program of modern DNA studies across the North Slope as well. They developed a proposal to do just that, and once it was funded, research got underway, with resident of all seven North Slope communities contributing samples.
The analysis took a while. The team traveled to all the villages to collect the data and returned to present the results to North Slope residents before they were published. Finally, the first paper based on the project is published! It is based on looking at mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from your mother. It is present in many more copies than the more familiar (to most people) nuclear DNA, and therefore is often studied in archaeological situations, since all the extra copies make it more likely that some of it will survive.
The short version is that the modern DNA results support the North Slope as the source for the populations that migrated to the eastern Arctic, both the Neoeskimo (ancestors of today’s Inuit/Inupiat people) and the earlier Paleoeskimo. This fits well with the picture from the archaeological data.
Jennifer Raff is senior author, with Margarita Rzhetskaya, Justin Tackney and Geoff Hayes as co-authors.
This paper has gotten picked up by a number of science news sources.
Edit: 4/30/15 Fixed a link that WP had put an ellipsis in the middle of the link. It should work now.