DNA tests debunk blond Inuit legend

Two Icelandic scientists have shot holes in the theory of the missing Norse tribes of the Arctic.

Agnar Helgason and Gisli Palsson say their DNA tests have failed to find any evidence that Europeans mingled genetically with Inuit half a millennium ago.

The scientists made the statement after a visit to Cambridge Bay last week.

Rumours of blue-eyed, blond-haired Inuit have circulated through the Arctic since the turn of the century. 

They were thought to possibly descend from a group of Norsemen who disappeared from a Greenland settlement 500 years ago.

A well-known Canadian Arctic explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, hinted in his diaries he came across European-featured Inuit in the early 1900s in Western Nunavut.

So Helgason and Palsson tested the theory by comparing DNA from 100 Cambridge Bay Inuit with Norse descendants from Iceland.

They presented their findings in the Kitikmeot community last week.

Helgason says his preliminary findings show there is no match between the Nunavut and Icelandic DNA.

"Stefansson's hypothesis doesn't seem to be supported by the data at this point in time," he says. "But I wouldn't want to give a final death certificate for Stefansson's hypothesis at this point in time."

Palsson, an anthropologist who translated Vilhjalmur Stefansson's diaries, says the explorer's claim to have seen the European-featured Inuit could have been a way to get additional funding for his exploration.

"There was some peculiar western fascination with lost tribes and there still is," he says. "These are wild speculations and there's something in the western imaginations that has driven these speculations."

Now, the two researchers are comparing the DNA they collected from Cambridge Bay Inuit to DNA from Greenland Inuit. 

They hope to find out more information on the migration patterns and history of Inuit in the circumpolar world.

Helgason says it could reveal new chapters in the history of humanity.

He says his final results should be ready in about two months.