9,000 year old child's tooth gives researchers better understanding of Alaska's ancient people

Published: Nov. 15, 2018 at 7:50 PM AKST
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Evidence that gives researchers a better understanding of Alaska's ancient people, has been found within a child's tooth.

Jeff Rasic is an archeologist with the National Park Service, and Matt Wooller is director of the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility. Recently, they have discovered some of the history behind a 9,000 year old child's tooth that was originally collected from a site in 1949 by Danish archeologists.

"There's a site in the Bering Land National Preserve far western Alaska on the Seward Peninsula and it's a famous site because it's in a cave and it has incredible preservation of organic material of antler and bone, artifacts and animal bone food remains, which is a really rare thing for early archaeology in that region," Rasic said.

So for nearly 70 years, the tooth along with other artifacts, remained in storage in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rasic visited the collection and came across a note regarding a single human tooth.

"The collections contained 10's of thousands of items, almost all of it is animal bones. And this one tooth stood out as something different, and probably very important, we eventually learned it was important," Rasic said.

The rare find lead to the discovery of the tooth, making it one of the oldest human remains from all of the arctic from Alaska to Greenland.

"So here we nearly doubled the age of the earliest skeletal material and that's important because skeletal material has a lot of information that is associated with it and through the ancient genetic analyses we learned some of that information," Rasic said.

Wooller says the tooth gave insight into the diet of the Ancient Beringians.

"And that's very interesting because marine resources are geographically surrounding that site and yet the chemistry was telling us that it was primarily a terrestrial diet source," Wooller said.

Because of the time and research that both Rasic, Wooller and others had invested, we now have a better understanding of the ancient peoples of Alaska. Their diets, migration, along with the newly rediscovered piece of the past.