There’s a new paper out on the genetic prehistory of the Canadian Arctic. Basically, it says that existing Eskimos replaced a genetically different population less than 700 years ago, and that those earlier Paleo-Eskimos (Dorset culture) represent yet another separate migration from Asia (in addition to the PaleoIndians, the Na-Dene, and the Eskimo).  They put this in such a nice way: “the genetic continuity characterizing the Paleo-Eskimo period was interrupted by the arrival of a new population.”

Which likely means that the neo-Eskimos killed off the Dorset people.  Obviously they weren’t farmers, the usual suspects in replacement, but the new guys had a more sophisticated technology ( and probably greater numbers) ,  with  bows, large skin boats, dog sleds, whale-hunting gear, etc.  The neo-Eskimos have certainly done their share of fighting in recent historical times – they went at it hammer-and-tongs with various Amerindian tribes.

This is fairly obvious, so much so that even the New York Times and the Washington Post mentioned extermination by the newcomers as a possible explanation.  There is no mention of that possibility in the original research article, but I’m sure that some of the authors were quite aware of it. What they said is probably influenced by the fear that saying anything negative, no matter how true, might cause the Eskimos to refuse cooperation in the future.

This pre-agricultural genocide makes you wonder  just how often similar wipeouts may happened in the past.  Maybe the Gravettians and Aurignacians weren’t the same people.


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70 Responses to Degüello

  1. Anonymous says:

    There exists craniofacial discontinuity between the EUP and later Paleolithic, maybe theres a clue.

  2. Wrath says:

    I have a hunch that the Kennewick genome (when revealed) will be 100% in support of your theory. Extensive extermination, limited interbreeding.

  3. David P. Cavanagh says:

    The timing is interesting. Some have argued that the Scandinavian/Icelandic expansion into Greenland was cut off about 700 years ago because the culture failed to adapt to new conditions imposed by climate change. Maybe the indigenous inhabitants of the American and Greenland arctic at this time were supplanted partly because they also failed to adapt to climate change.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I was just thinking that ‘climate change’ probably explains why the Germans withdrew from France in 1944.

      • j says:

        Then it was not climate change that explains why the Scandinavians withdrew from Groenland?

        • gcochran9 says:

          ‘died out’ is more like it. The weather got a little worse, in a place that was very marginal for Norse agriculture, and also Eskimos showed up. Sure, climate changes matter. But I see zillions of invocations of ‘climate change’ that make no sense, like this last one suggesting that ‘climate change’ killed off the Dorset Paleo-Eskimos, when it’s damned obvious it was the advent of the Thule culture, the current Eskimos, that caused it. They even have legends about it – wasn’t that long ago.

          Judging from what I see, authors of scientific papers get a blow job every time they use that phrase. And I am also sick of explanations in which everybody conveniently dies out just before the invaders arrive. What crap.

          • Justin says:

            “…from what I see, authors of scientific papers get a blow job every time they use that phrase.” I think I threw a rupture laughing after reading this.

            As safe and lazy as the “climate change” explanation is, it’s a bit more credible than the ‘cultural transmission’ that media-connected dullards tell us spread Indo-European and, of great historical importance to us English speakers, Anglo Saxon.

            Odd how Finns in Vyborg decided to abruptly take up Russian and forget Finnish, but then all those Romano-British did that too. Must be that Russian traders were high status or something in 1940. Immigration is good for the economy!

          • whatever says:

            everybody conveniently dies out just before the invaders arrive

            To be fair, climate change could both drive out the current population and lure in people who had different weather preferences. But yeah, it is annoying when people jump to an unlikely explanation first.

            Actually, it’s entertaining on its own. It just becomes annoying when done over and over with no originality.

          • ursiform says:

            This is a case of climate variation vs climate change. A fairly small number of Norse settled Greenland during a warm spell. The following cold spell not only made survival hard on Greenland, it also hurt Iceland, so trading/supply ships stopped sailing for Greenland. When the climate improved and another ship finally sailed for Greenland there were no Norse left there. As Greg said, a small population in a marginal environment failed to ride out a cold spell.

          • Patrick L. Boyle says:

            Things have been turning sour for poor Jared Diamond lately. In his book ‘Collapse’ he tells a morality tale about how the inflexible Europeans in Greenland died out when the weather changed rather than adopted the artic technology of the natives. That seems to mean that the Scandinavians went home to their Volvos and saunas. They should have just hunkered down with the friendly natives and waited out the cold snap, I guess. Long wait.

            Your news about the real characteristics of the artic peoples comes right on the heels of the new analyses of Easter Island – another Diamond collapse fantasy. If the new findings hold up that will mean Diamond got every major point about the Rapa Nui collapse wrong too.

            In his latest book – ‘The World Until Yesterday’- he tells an anecdote about how the people in New Guinea reacted to a child being accidentally hit while crossing a road. Somehow we are supposed to draw a moral lesson from their bloodthirsty reprisals. In fact we need no such lesson. There was a similar incident in a black ghetto where a white off-duty cop ran down a little black girl who jumped out into traffic. The black father and cousin tried to kill the badly injured cop. That was two years ago. The YouTube video has over four million hits, most of which scream for the cop’s blood.

            Diamond likes to romanticize primitive peoples. They seem to only exist for him so as to provide a moral example for wicked American whites.

          • a very knowing American says:

            There’s actually growing evidence that climate change caused drastic declines in Amerindian populations from the late 15th century on. The direct impact of European-introduced disease and dispossession has probably been greatly overstated.

            There. Now who do I get in touch with about that bj?

          • Toad says:

            “inflexible Europeans in Greenland died out when the weather changed rather than adopted the artic technology of the natives.”

            I do not like them,
            I do not like
            seal-blubber and bowhead brain-pan.

            I will not eat them in an igloo.
            I will not eat them with a Caribou.
            I do not like them here or there.
            I do not like them ANYWHERE!

          • David P. Cavanagh says:

            Are you off your meds today? If you had bothered to read what I wrote, you would have noticed that I wrote “supplanted PARTLY because…”. And you might also have noticed that I never suggested that the Dorset culture died out before the descendants of modern Eskimos arrived; just that an inability to adapt to a changing climate might have weakened them up for, e.g., later conquest. It seems to me that you have previously suggested something similar for Neanderthals, modern humans, and the Ice Age. Who gave you your blow job back then ?

            I don’t see how anything about this can be “damned obvious” unless you have a time machine.

            Anyway there is a more recent and documented example of precisely the phenomenon I’m describing: It is pretty clear from the Jesuit Relations (See Parkman’s Jesuits in North America) that the northeast woodlands tribes of North America were adapted for a milder climate than that which developed in the 16th century, probably as a result of the Maunder Minimum. The northernmost Huron were hardest hit and in their weakened state were mercilessly marauded by the more southerly and less affected Mohawks. The Mohawk raids had the dual purpose of wiping out the Huron and recruiting Huron into the Mohawk tribe, which was also experiencing some demographic decline, probably as a result of changing climactic conditions. It’s unlikely that the Huron would have caved so completely to the Mohawk had they been better nourished and clothed for the climate in which they found themselves This is very similar to the scenario I suggested for the replacement of the Dorset culture.

            • gcochran9 says:

              I never suggested that Neanderthals were done in by the weather. Where did you get that idea?

              The Thule totally outclassed the Dorset culture: they could hunt whales. They had dogs, dog sleds, bow and arrows – the Dorset didn’t. The Thule could have won while standing on one foot, patting their head, rubbing their tummy, and whistling the entire Art of the Fugue.

              There is no evidence for a particularly bone-crushing climatic event that happened at the same time as the Dorset were snuffed. Certainly the Thule were moving into and expanding in the same areas and at the same time, which argues against it.

              For whoever is listening, which hopefully includes everyone from coast to coast and all the ships at sea, you don’t construct a scientific theory by throwing your lunch (including dessert) at the wall and hoping that it all sticks, especially the trendy juicy parts. You try to find the simplest explanation that does the entire job.

              The Dorset had managed to hang on in the Canadian arctic for almost four thousand years. Then the Thule show up and the Dorset evaporate in short order, with very low, maybe zero low gene flow into the new tenants.
              What’s the simplest explanation?

          • little spoon says:

            This sub thread contains the funniest comment exchange I have ever read.

            I must admit I am surprised that honor would go to anything I read on this blog.

          • teageegeepea says:

            Jared Diamond was wrong about the cultural adaptivity of the Greenland Norse, as well as Easter Island.

      • TWS says:

        Steel and lead hail pellets encourage migrations.

        • dearieme says:

          But there’s no archaeological evidence of the Norse being exterminated in Greenland: no skeletons with stone arrows in them, no layer of fire damage in the old buildings. First they abandoned the northern of their two colonies, then the southern. Given the reversal of the Medieval Warm Period, it’s pretty plausible that the last Norse inhabitants just left. There are plenty of equivalent ghost towns in the US aren’t there? And, in spite of the sentimental, romanticised chatter about the Highland Clearances, there’s ample evidence of areas where the population just threw in the towel and left. Trying to farm in a sub-Arctic terrain in the Little Ice Age was too miserable a lot for many Highlanders, in spite of their advantages (e.g. the potato); why not for the Greenland Norse?

          • dearieme says:

            Come to think of it, the last inhabitants of St Kilda gave up in the twentieth century, and asked the government to evacuate them.

          • JIm says:

            Some of them returned to Iceland. I remember many years ago the Houston Museum had an exhibit on Vikings in the New World, They had an exhibit showing photographs of an abandoned church in Greenland. In the display case they had the records of this church opened to the record of the last marriage performed there. They also had records from Iceland with the names of the bride and groom who apparently lived happily ever after in Iceland. So some of the people returned to Iceland although this may have in part been motivated by Eskimo pressure.

            There was an extensive series of exhibits from L’anse aux Meadows. I don’t know if the fate of the people who lived there is known. I lived in Newfoundland as a child but that was before the settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows was discovered. We lived on the South Coast near the Grand Banks and L’Anse aux Meadows is way at the northernmost tip of the West Coast almost 500 miles from where we lived. It must have been one of the loneliest places in the world to live.

            Speaking of ghost towns I drove through one in West Texas once, As I was driving through I suddenly saw a man walking up to a mail box. Maybe he was a ghost.

          • Dipitty Do says:

            I grew up with the story of the (terrible, horrible, no good, very bad,) Highland Clearances, and a lot of resentment against the (obviously English!) people who caused them. Since growing up and learning about things like ‘actual historical sources’ and not just believing any old drivel that people say, and, hell, just reading the Wikipedia on a lot of historical subjects, I’ve come to suspect that the “Clearances,” at least as described to me, never happened.

            Well, at least I didn’t get my Scottish history from romance novels.

          • dearieme says:

            There were some Clearances, the most notorious being on the Countess of Sutherland’s estate, but it was sod all to do with The English unless you want to make a meal about her marrying an English boy. And her activities were designed in the best PC spirit of the age. That was the problem.

      • Jacobite says:

        There was an intense increase in local warming.

  4. GoneWithTheWind says:

    That was Hitler’s plan for the Jews; to interrupted the genetic continuity of the jews.

  5. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    I think you mean El Degüello

  6. Frito Bandito says:


    One always gets the impression that eskimoes are short,silly, and happy-go-lucky folk, while the tall and dark older natives were the ones who would be more open to slitting throats open and taking names.

  7. Jim says:

    The Dorset people were wiped out and/or driven out 700 years ago and the Dorset people are different genetically from modern Eskimos. How do the Dorset people compare genetically to modern Athabaskans? Are they more similar to modern Athabaskans than they are to modern Eskimos or are they also quite different from modern Athabaskans.

  8. gwern says:

    Which likely means that the neo-Eskimos killed off the Dorset people.

    That’s the usual explanation one looks for, but the NYT article ( says:

    Their results suggest that the Paleo-Eskimos remained genetically isolated for thousands of years, and that the Dorset culture did not vanish through assimilation. Modern Inuits, then, are descendants of the Thule and not directly related to the Paleo-Eskimos. “This is surprising, because every time people meet each other we find evidence of sex between the people,” said Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist at the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen and an author of the study.

    If the Dorset were killed off by the Thule, why is there no descent? After all, one of the best parts of genocide from a guy’s perspective is that you get your pick of all the nubile young women…

    • TWS says:

      It’s the Arctic and you’re living on the knife’s edge anyway. When food gets scarce will you share with your slave/sex toy? If she lives through the abuse will she be able to take care of a kid? If she gives birth why not toss the squalling brat onto the ice? I bet you’d find more Dorset DNA in Eskimo husky remains than in the Eskimos.

      • gwern says:

        All populations expand to the point where they live on the knife’s edge. All young warlike men want slaves and kids, and there’s never enough women to go around, whether you’re in the Amazon or the Arctic. If they tossed brats onto the ice every single time, their culture would collapse. Typically when one sees wholesale genocide like the one postulated like OP, there’s plenty of women taken who reproduce.

        • JIm says:

          Would many Eskimo men have been able to feed additional women and their children? In the Arctic women produced no food from vegetable gardens or gathering or such female food production activities. So maybe it was not possible to support any excess of women which might have become available

          • gwern says:

            Oh for heaven’s sake – so then a bunch of Eskimo women get kicked to the curb in favor of the nubile new slaves! Or are we postulating that every single captive would be uglier and older than all the Eskimo women? Trading up – not just for houses and cars.

          • JIm says:

            In the Arctic women make no significant contribution to food production. Additional females taken into the group mean the same amount of food divided among more people.

        • Boris Bartlog says:

          There have been places where there were enough women to go around, and the population size and possibilities for expansion were effectively set by the number of male hunters and their effectiveness. It’s certainly not the human norm – in most climates, there’s enough calories to be gained from agriculture and/or gathering that a young woman is a net calorie producer, at least until the place gets really crowded. But maybe not in the Arctic.

          • JIm says:

            I recall reading that in the North American tundra when food was short only the men ate and the women and children starved. I also recall reading that if a women’s husband died she and her children were doomed at least in the winter as other hunters had nothing extra for them.

            During the season of the caribou food could be abundant for a while but by the end of the winter there was nothing to spare. I’ve read that when the caribou returned the men were so weak they could at first barely manage to kill the caribou.

          • simontmn says:


          • j says:

            BB you are describing a situation like the one imagined to have produced those amazing blue-eyed blonde Scandinavian hotties. I mean, strong competition among females for a spouse. Somehow, the same environment has produced Eskimo females, who have yet to win a beauty contest. Explain.

        • TWS says:

          You don’t toss the real children onto the ice. Only the slave’s children. In a marginal situation who gets tossed first your cousin’s kid who’s also your wife or the slave kid who’s just going to eat your kid’s food?

          The fact is they left no genetic signature the only way for that to happen is for them to be dead. Maybe the Thule folk never took slaves at all or maybe they ate them? Whatever happened wasn’t sunshine and rainbows.

          • gwern says:

            You don’t toss the real children onto the ice. Only the slave’s children. In a marginal situation who gets tossed first your cousin’s kid who’s also your wife or the slave kid who’s just going to eat your kid’s food?

            Kids are expensive, slave or otherwise. There should still be plenty of survivors to leave traces.

            The fact is they left no genetic signature the only way for that to happen is for them to be dead.

            Yes, and you know what’s a great way for them to all be dead, even the young fertile females, which doesn’t require absurd inferences about killing all nubile females or all their offspring the warriors beget on them? Especially for people who are “living on the knife’s edge anyway” and are in a “marginal situation” where it is often the case that “food gets scarce”? Some unlucky climate variation for a few years where everyone starves to death.

          • TWS says:

            Yes the entire population voluntarily starved to death rather than sacrifice slaves, marginal members, abandon children and the elderly. That makes so much more sense than simply killing the defeated enemy.

            But no it has to be climate change. If it was climate change then wouldn’t we see similar results everywhere in the neighborhood? Oh, it was localized climate change? Oh, I see now I am totally convinced that humans didn’t follow human nature.

            What happened to the Chimakum? Climate change I am sure. When it starts raining blood I guess that counts as climate change.

            • gwern says:

              Yes the entire population voluntarily starved to death rather than sacrifice slaves, marginal members, abandon children and the elderly.

              Who says they didn’t abandon the marginal members first? Remember, being a Cthulhu cultist doesn’t mean you’re saved – it just means you’re the last to be devoured!

              That makes so much more sense than simply killing the defeated enemy.

              And more sense than not taking any women. Where were these Dorset going to get food when they ran into their version of gambler’s ruin? The local Whalemart?

              But no it has to be climate change. If it was climate change then wouldn’t we see similar results everywhere in the neighborhood? Oh, it was localized climate change? Oh, I see now I am totally convinced that humans didn’t follow human nature.

              Climate change is often localized. A bad winter in the Arctic doesn’t mean a bad winter in Arizona. A massive centuries-long drought in the American Southwest can crush anyone living there without crushing tribes outside that region. And so on and so forth.

              When it starts raining blood I guess that counts as climate change.

              Speaking of blood, where’s the Dorset traces in the Inuit blood…? Which was my original point.

      • simontmn says:

        Yes, Arctic peoples don’t maintain harems. This is one theory for whites having evolved blonde hair during the last Ice Age – to make women more attractive as mates, because even a successful hunter could only afford one wife. Further south polygamy was practical, and even Arab style cloistering of women.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You don’t see a lot of Amerindian admixture in olde-tyme New Englanders.

      • gwern says:

        So, I am not an expert on the state of the art of population genetics or even at the level of Razib Khan, but when you say that, do you mean ‘I know, as a technical fact, that both the Eskimos and white New Englanders show exactly zero evidence of Dorset / American Indian descent and are exactly comparable’ or ‘no one has recently mentioned American Indian descent as being a large part of white New Englanders’ genome so I will lazily assume that American Indian traces are not observable at all in the same way that the Dorset are not observable’…?

        Your implicit argument only works if the former is true.

        • gcochran9 says:

          The average level in New Englanders is well under 1%. My guess is that the Dorset could have contributed a comparable amount to the modern Inuit gene pool without it being detected, considering the small sample size and not-so-good quality of the DNA samples.

          But it could have been zero: some nonzero amount of admixture is likely, but people do funny things.

  9. Toddy Cat says:

    “One always gets the impression that eskimoes are short,silly, and happy-go-lucky folk”

    Don’t believe it. The Eskimo may be short, but silly and happy-go-lucky doesn’t get you very far living in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. People whose normal lives approximate combat are generally pretty good at the real thing.

    Also, “The Eskimo Sex Toys” sounds like a rock group from the early ’70’s. Just sayin’…

    • apunkbandnamedluckeyhaskins says:

      “a rock group from the early ’70’s”

      No, a punk band from the early 80s.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        You have a point, but in fairness, I do remember a band from 1973 called “Savage Sex and Yogurt Show”. But yeah, probably more 1981…

  10. RT says:

    No source given, but I foggily remember reading that the Norsemen in Greenland experienced 2+ summers that were too short for the type of grain they were growing. After that they had not much of a chance: Either hope for reinforcements, die from hunger or take the last ship back to Iceland.

    Must have been tough decisions.

    • gcochran9 says:

      They never could grow grain there. Grass grew: they mainly lived off cattle and sheep.

      • RT says:

        I just tried to come up with a better reference. I am translating from the German wikipedia (

        “The Norvegian educational book Konungs skuggsjá (King’s mirror) reports in the 13th century that the Greenlandic farmers subsisted mainly on meat, milk (Skyr, a sour milk product similar to curd), butter and cheese. The archaeologist Thomas McGovern from the City University of New York has examined the nutrition of the Scandinavian Greenlanders by looking at their garbage heaps. He concluded that the meat consisted of 20% cattle beef, 20% goat and sheep, 45% seal, 10% caribou and 5% other meat. The inhabitants also did regular fishing.”

        “Handmills found in several homesteads of the Eastern settlement imply that in specially favoured locations, grain was grown in small quantities. Mainly it must have been imported. The “Kings mirror” reports that only the most powerful persons grew a bit of corn for their own use.”

        So, maybe a little grain, but not of major importance, unlike I remembered ;-).


        • Laban says:

          I never realised that the Inuit weren’t the same people as the Skraelings of the Norse sagas. Still, the Norse had their genetic revenge 600 years later. When the Antarctic explorer Wally Herbert was looking for Greenland sledge dogs in the 1960s he described his Danish boat’s crew as “in great demand as lovers all along the east coast. No wonder the features of the Greenlanders are changing”.

          Skyr is really nice stuff btw – the Icelandic equivalent to yogurt.

        • dearieme says:

          There was also a useful grass – related to rye – that grew wild (my fallible memory says).

    • engleberg says:

      Must have been tough decisions.

      You left out ‘go a-Viking.’ Still a tough decision, but one made over and over by every Iron Age European fishing village every bad year for millenia.

  11. gunther says:

    “Inuit legends recount them driving away people they called the Tuniit… According to legend, the First Inhabitants were “giants”, people who were taller and stronger than the Inuit, but who were easily scared off.” [Wikipedia]

    I recall reading, years ago (sorry, no link), about a Dorset archaeological site that seemed to indicate that this particular group had met with a violent end and found with their remains were arrows and harpoons of Inuit design. In that article the researchers previously thought the Inuit legend of driving out giants was mere fancy, were now considering it oral history.

  12. nejtysk says:

    Genocide is certainly not a useful word for this. We know of no mass killings of neighboring tribes by the new arrivals. Climate change during that era is a fact and the silly deniers again show up here,too, unfortunately. Vikings back then were not adapted to it. They called Greenland Greenland and not New Iceland. It makes sense to think it might have also played a role in the issue of the disappearance of the Dorset culture. Tribes often have warfare against neighbors so bigger numbers of newcomers could have simply taken over an already weakened culture. How many genomes are there of Dorset culture individuals and is there no connections in absolute terms? I mean, we also are partly Neanderthal so there is still a connection albeit no big one.

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  15. Henry A. says:

    “This pre-agricultural genocide makes you wonder just how often similar wipeouts may happened in the past.”
    It makes me wonder just how often similar wipeouts are happening now and will happen in the future.

  16. ernpr says:

    Read some place back :they spent too much time praying and importing idols and like

  17. Spike says:

    So, do you believe the Sadlermiut were remnant Dorset, or some weird hybrid culture in an isolated spot?

  18. anonymous says:

    Eskimos replaced a genetically different population less than 700 years ago

    I can’t believe that nobody’s suggested a Viking introduced pathogen wiping out the Dorset, following which the Innuit just moved in with little or no resistance. Maybe a virus from the Viking sheep, to which they had no prior exposure…. no, that would be the depths of madness to even imagine such a thing. /sarcasm>

  19. bleach says:

    Its hard to imagine how people in such a hostile climate, and living so close to starvation all of the time, could have possibly had the ability to wage war against their neighbors. There must be some way but I can’t figure it.

  20. j says:

    Au contraire, bleach! Circumpolar peoples made up the Manchu hordes that conquered China five centuries ago and ruled it to quite recently. They also peopled one of the Mongol banners. In one winter storm campaign conquered all except one Russian settlements. They are undemanding, self-sufficient soldiers.

  21. inkanyamba says:

    Pretty sure the Innuits wiped the Norse out.

    Ivar Bardsson’s description of Greenland, written in the 1360s tells of the heathen (Innuit) attack that wiped out the Western Settlement.

    Last known record of contact is Pope Nicholas V’s letter to the bishops of Skalholt and Hole (on Iceland) in 1448 telling news of a heathen attack 30 years before on Greenland where most of the churches were destroyed and the inhabitants abducted. Letter also says some of the abductees managed to return, and instructs the bishops to investigate and if viable, send priests to Greenland. There are apparently graves from the late 1400s by the Eastern settlement.

    We also know that by that century the Norse diet on Greenland was ~80% marine products, so they didn’t depend upon green pastures for survival.

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