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Inuk Was A-Positive: A Brief Meditation

Updated on April 11, 2012
Greenland scene.  Image courtesy Hannes Grobe and Wikimedia Commons.
Greenland scene. Image courtesy Hannes Grobe and Wikimedia Commons.

Inuk was A-positive.

For some reason, that information hit me with a certain imaginitive force.  You see, "Inuk" is the name given to an unknown man who lived around 4,000 years ago in Greenland, a member of the extinct Saqqaq culture.  The name just means "human" in Greenlandic.  Apparently, Inuk is more closely related to modern Siberian tribesmen than to the Innuit who inhabit Greenland today, but the scientists who named him meant to acknowledge the place itself, regardless of the language Inuk would have spoken those millenia ago.

All that physically remains of Inuk today is a tuft of hair.  It was preserved in permafrost, found in 1986, and ended up in a Danish museum, where it was found once again by Professor Eske Willerslev.  Professor Willerslev assembled an international team, which, after months of painstaking work, was able to sequence the DNA which the ancient cold had preserved in the follicles of the hair. reported that:

From the genome, the researchers were able to determine that Inuk had brown eyes, darker skin than most Europeans, the blood type A-positive, and shovel-shaped front teeth. They also found that he had a tendency toward baldness and was adapted to cold temperatures.

The genome also suggested that he had thick, dark hair, the only physical trait of Inuk the researchers were able to confirm directly.

Artist's reconstruction of Inuk's appearance.
Artist's reconstruction of Inuk's appearance.

Hey, I'm A-positive, with black hair (well, used to be) and balding. Presumably the some of the very same genes as Inuk--mixed up with different ones, too, of course, accounting for the differences between him and me.

It's a vivid illustration of the persistence through time of what appear to us to be very mundane traits. It's a bit like the factoid that every element in our bodies heavier than hydrogen was formed inside an ancient star and dispersed to the universe via "nova" explosions. (Hence Joni Mitchell's famous line, "we are stardust. . ." It was more than just a metaphor--and she knew it, I believe.)

It is indeed a wonder-full universe--albeit sometimes scary, too. I wonder if Inuk lived long enough to experience balding? If so, did he feel about it as I do--an intimate message from the Universe that, sure enough, I too will die someday, just as have beloved family members before me?

Rest in peace, Inuk--I don't suppose you would have minded donating a lock of hair to science, little though you could even have imagined something called by that name. Little more can I imagine what your life was, so very long ago, and so far away.

But part of you is part of me, too, in a very literal way. And some things haven't changed at all for us humans.

Rest in peace.

"We Are Stardust" (Auntie Diluvian's explanatory video)


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