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Recent developments in the fields of chemistry and molecular biology have enabled scientists to extract and examine minute amounts of DNA from ancient biological material. This breakthrough has revolutionized the fields of archaeology, paleozoology, biogeography, and climatology. We are now applying these novel methods to the study of marine mammals.
In 2004 we initiated genetic research on ancient marine mammal bones and teeth recovered from archaeological sites in Alaska. Ancient DNA technology was used to study the species composition in 3,000 yr.-old Unangan middens in the Aleutian Islands. Our research discovered species that no longer occur in the Aleutian Islands and include species that today are found further north in the Arctic. Could this reflect a colder climate in the North Pacific 3,000 years ago? Future work here at HBOI-FAU will tackle this and other important questions about the earth’s past.