Researchers in Greenland have begun to put the names on bones excavated in primitive waste heaps. One animal may just amaze you.
Pits filled with the bones of such creatures as harp seals and caribou were just the tip of the iceberg, researchers say. The real eye opener was all the bowhead whale DNA discovered.
While just a scant few bones were found in this western Greenland ‘trash heap’ what scientists found was a plethora of the whale’s DNA.
Geneticist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Curtin University in Australia Frederik Seersholm said, “That was a surprise, definitely.” The paleo-Inuit, or Saqqaq people, as they were called, would have needed larger, well-manned vessels and harpoons that didn’t come to this arctic region for some millennia.
Seersholm said that it would have been quite difficult for the Saqqaq people to hunt animals as large as bowhead whales without such gear. At best, he said, the Saqqaq might have had single-person kayaks and small spears.
Still, the research team thinks that these extraordinary people might have done just that, despite what it looks like today.
“In old hunting methods from a hundred years ago, people described coming up behind the whale,” Seersholm said. “If you stab it with the lance just below the flipper, you can hit it straight into the heart. With just small boats and three men, you should be able to kill them.”
Heart shots, while difficult, could still be achieved, and when the reward was food, these hunters were certainly capable.
Not everyone is convinced, though. Anthropologist at the University of Manitoba Brooke Milne said,
“Imagine them going out into open water in small watercraft, making the assumption they had seaworthy kayaks, to spear a 50-ton whale behind the flipper. What would happen if they went in the water? What if [the bowhead] destroyed the boat? You’d lose these crucial members of your society. [Those hunters] would drown in the frigid water.”
“I can see going after smaller whale like beluga or narwhal. But if you have a small population, why would you even go after that higher-risk quarry when you have equally reliable, lesser-risk animals? It’s more likely scavenging a dead or beached whale.”
Since the DNA of bowheads is so prevalent in the waste heaps it’s still an open question for scientists, and where there are questions there are answers which makes researchers just as happy.
Since hunting for meat is how man crawled to the top of the animal kingdom, scientists will continue to study bones and DNA to determine what ancient humans hunted to survive. As fellow hunters we can only be astonished at what these hardy people had to do to harvest the animals available to them.
We prefer to think that they successfully hunted them, but that’s the job of the scientific community to determine.