SI_aDNA_Greenland_Norse_walrus_ivory_trade from Ancient DNA reveals the chronology of walrus ivory trade from Norse Greenland
journal contributionposted on 23.07.2018 by Bastiaan Star, James H. Barrett, Agata T. Gondek, Sanne Boessenkool
Any type of content formally published in an academic journal, usually following a peer-review process.
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.