Ancient DNA reveals the chronology of walrus ivory trade from Norse Greenland.


Type
Article
Change log
Authors
Gondek, Agata T 
Boessenkool, Sanne 
Abstract

The importance of the Atlantic walrus ivory trade for the colonization, peak, and collapse of the medieval Norse colonies on Greenland has been extensively debated. Nevertheless, no studies have directly traced medieval European ivory back to distinct Arctic populations of walrus. Analysing the entire mitogenomes of 37 archaeological specimens from Europe, Svalbard, and Greenland, we here discover that Atlantic walrus comprises two monophyletic mitochondrial (MT) clades, which diverged between 23 400 and 251 120 years ago. Our improved genomic resolution allows us to reinterpret the geographical distribution of partial MT data from 306 modern and nineteenth-century specimens, finding that one of these clades was exclusively accessible to Greenlanders. With this discovery, we ascertain the biological origin of 23 archaeological specimens from Europe (most dated between 900 and 1400 CE). These results reveal a significant shift in trade from an early, predominantly eastern source towards a near exclusive representation of Greenland ivory. Our study provides empirical evidence for how this remote Arctic resource was progressively integrated into a medieval pan-European trade network, contributing to both the resilience and vulnerability of Norse Greenland society.

Description
Keywords
Middle Ages, Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus, Viking Age, aDNA, high-throughput sequencing, Animals, Commerce, Cuspid, DNA, Ancient, DNA, Mitochondrial, Greenland, History, Medieval, Walruses
Journal Title
Proc Biol Sci
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
0962-8452
1471-2954
Volume Title
285
Publisher
The Royal Society
Sponsorship
Leverhulme Trust (MRF-2013-065)
Research Council of Norway (via University of Oslo) (230821)
Research Council of Norway (via University of Oslo) (262777/STBR)
This work was supported by the Nansenfondet, the Research Council of Norway projects 262777 and 230821, and the Leverhulme Trust project ‘Northern Journeys’ MRF-2013-065.