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This portrait of Demasduit (also known as Mary March) was painted by Henrietta Hamilton almost 200 years ago. ((Library and Archives Canada))

Researchers hope DNA testing will answer questions about the origins of Newfoundland and Labrador's extinct Beothuk people.

The last known member of the group — a woman named Shanawdithit — died in 1829 in St. John's.

Researchers will carry out DNA testing on the remains of two Beothuks who died 10 years earlier: Demasduit, and a man believed to be her husband, Nonosabasut.

"We hope the first phase of testing will tell us who the Beothuk were," said Pete Barrett, chair of the Beothuk Institute.

Barrett says the work will start next month.

"Testing will be held at Memorial University to get ready for the next stage where researchers will take DNA samples from the Innu, Inuit and Metis people in Labrador and the Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland. Then they'll be able to do some comparisons," said Barrett.  

Some of the DNA testing will be done at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

According to its website, the Beothuk Institute is a charitable organization that aims to promote better public knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of the Beothuk people.

The institute received a $3,400 heritage grant from the provincial government and assistance from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador for DNA tests.