No, That Norwegian Guy Was Not an Inca Indian


There's a newsbit doing the rounds of international summer-starved media about a funny cranium found at St. Nicholas' church in Sarpsborg, Norway during excavations headed by Mona Beate Buckholm of Østfoldmuseet. The cranium belonged to a batch of bones surfacing when some rose bushes were moved. Radiocarbon dates them to most likely the 11th century AD. The find is touted as having "the same genetic marks as the Inca people of Latin America". This is an oversimplification.

Here's what it's all about, and I translate from the Norwegian:

"One of the men had a cranium with a split neck bone, a so-called 'Inca bone'. That is, he was the bearer of a rare hereditary trait where the seam between the two points called asterion in the rear of the neck does not ossify and close during foetal development in the usual way. In people with an Inca bone, this seam remains visible throughout their lives. This trait almost exclusively occurs in South American Indians, and is most common in Peru."

"Almost exclusively". "Most common". As there are no South American artefacts from the site, the most parsimonious view is that the find demonstrates the existence of this trait among 11th century Norwegians as well.

Thanks to Ian Rogers for the heads-up.

[More blog entries about , , , , , ; Andra bloggar om: , , , , .]

More like this

Per Widerström called me today and told me he'd just found a picture stone. This is breaking news, mainstream media not yet alerted. Photographs courtesy of the finder, and I hope to get some shots in horizontal lighting too where the relief scenes will be visible. Scandinavian 1st Millennium art…
On the excursion during the Sachsensymposium in Trondheim last month we visited Slipsteinsberget ("Grindstone Hill"). Not only did we visit the place, but the entire conference (some of whose participants were in their 70s) climbed around the whole hill (rain-sodden, wooded and steep) like…
Re-run from 22 December 2005. The Viking Period was a funny time, only three centuries long, leaving a huge footprint in terms of ideas and archaeology. Speakers of Scandinavian languages lived mainly in the fertile southern third of Scandinavia, most of them being subsistence farmers. The endless…
The Oseberg ship burial of Norway is a mind-blowing find, full of Early Viking Period carved woodwork and textiles of unparalelled quality. Dated by dendrochronology to AD 834, the long ship and its contents were sealed under a clay barrow, perfectly preserved when excavated in 1904. I consider…

There was a man here up in north who made investigations in his familys hereditary kinship,(släktforskade) and he found out that they had an ancestor (not the ultimate) who was an indian from America...How did that guy come to the coast of Norway? With the vikings?
People sad, "hoho", but the investigator stood by his point...
Well, I don´t know...

Uuuh! Sorry, I didn't mean the "Inca"guy, I meant the "ancestor" to K, the man in north, with norwegian relatives...

I notice that the jaw bone has some teeth still attached. These are usually about the best sources of preserved DNA from ancient skeletal remains. If they can extract some I guess a mitochondrial DNA screening would throw some light on the origins of the bones - which are most likely of local origin rather than Pocahontas great granny brought back from the Americas by marauding vikings.

Honestly, I am no elitist, but people who are not osteologists should think thrice before writing about bones!

The "Inca bone" is a "non-metric trait". A genetic coincindence affecting how the sutures and bone parts form in the skull, as Martin said. In genetically restricted populations, many skulls may have non-metric traits of this kind and many others (see Brothwell: Digging up Bones). It is the result of genetic mutation that happens fairly often in individuals (it doesn't affetct the brain in any way), and only becomes common in a population if there is a lot of intermarriage.
As osteologists well know, the occurence of these extra bones or odd sutures can not IN ANY WAY be used as way of showing genetic relationships between disparate populations, only the amount of intermarriage within a group.

For instance, a very comple occipital suture, resulting in many small disparate sutural bones, is very common among Saamis. Having such a suture does not mean you are saami. Same with the "Inca bone", which I myself have seen in medieval materials from Sweden. Not common, but occurring.

Oh, that guy I wrote about is a "half-norwegian/half-swedish" saami.

Can this kind of "Inca"-bone be an old, I mean very old trait? Not a fairly new mutation? Something that went over Berings Sound, or in a boat who happened to floast to Americas, or something like that?

If it is most common in Peru, then it must be seen somewhere else, and you, Asa L, sid "among Saamis"?
But somewhere else, anybody who knows?

Pocahontas played a significant role in American history. As a compassionate little girl she saw to it that the colonists received food from the Indians, so that Jamestown would not suffer the fate of the "Lost Colony." She is said to have intervened to save the lives of individual colonists. In 1616 John Smith wrote that Pocahontas was "the instrument to pursurve this colonie from death, famine, and utter confusion." And Pocahontas not only served as a representative of the Virginia Indians, but also as a vital link between the native Americans and the Englishmen. She married an englishmen, and died in England, on a visit there, 22 years old. She had a son.

Maybe it isn't the same "traits" in the skulls of "Inca" and the Saami, or the medieval swede?

The embarrasingly inaccurate piece of journalism behind this news story originated from not just one, but two regional correspondents working for the national norwegian broadcaster, NRK.

The reporters, probably with no scientific training but with a nose for sensationalism, headlined their article as follows:

"Indian skeleton" found in Ostfold

So much for the scientific standards among norwegian journalists...

Oh yes, really bad!
The skull could as well be from an african from just south of Sahara, or from Himalayas, or from a part of China, or West Coast read the paper it's only 8 pages to read, I showed you were to find it.
It can really be an old hereditary trait as I understand the text. It's not so difficult to find "the source", if they can see what kind of Inca-bone it is...
And as it seems it is not a common trait among europeans...Could as well be a fairly new mutation on the spot...

And I forgot the most important, that it could as well have been an inuit (eskimo) they do have this "Inca" bone,to a fairly great extent, see the paper I pointed at...(maybe it was a "skräling"?)
And have a nice sunday!!

Os incae: variation in frequency in major human population groups
Tsunehiko Hanihara and Hajime Ishida…

The variation in frequency of the Inca bone was
examined in major human populations around the
world. The New World populations have generally high
frequencies of the Inca bone, whereas lower
frequencies occur in northeast Asians and Australians.
Tibetan}Nepalese and Assam}Sikkim populations in
northeast India have more Inca bones than do
neighbouring populations. Among modern populations
originally derived from eastern Asian population stock,
the frequencies are highest in some of the marginal
isolated groups. In Central and West Asia as well as in
Europe, frequency of the Inca bone is relatively low.
The incidence of the complete Inca bone is, moreover,
very low in the western hemisphere of the Old World
except for Subsaharan Africa. Subsaharan Africans
show as a whole a second peak in the occurrence of
the Inca bone. Geographical and ethnographical
patterns of the frequency variation of the Inca bone
found in this study indicate that the possible genetic
background for the occurrence of this bone cannot be
completely excluded. Relatively high frequencies of the
Inca bone in Subsaharan Africans indicate that this
trait is not a uniquely eastern Asian regional character.

By Peter Alaca (not verified) on 03 Jul 2007 #permalink

Yes, I read the abstract too, but because I've studied math, numbers interests me, "Frequency distribution", for Greenland Inuits are 0.0663, if you compare to Assam/Sikkim which have 0.0635 (high in the abstract), the Peruvians have 0.0824 and they don´t mention in the abstract that North Melanesians also have 0.084.

So as I see it (maybe I don´t understand?) the Greenland inuit (eskimo) scores rather high.

Dear Martin,
there is nothing, almost, that is more interesting than history...
I´ve found Nils Gustaf Gejvalls dissertions from 1960, "Westerhus Medieval Population and Church in the Light of Skeletal Remains".
He had a laboratory and investigated and wrote about 364 skeletons dug up from a chapel on Frösön near Östersund. Most intersting was that many skulls had a "metopic suture". 21% had this type of boneseam, that hadn´t been closed, but was still open in adult age. "Inca-bone"type. He talks about a continuity from the stoneage of this people...(p 88).

It seems as people came from Norway, from Tröndelag and along the norwegian coast, thousand of years was long ongoing. Jämtland belonged to Norway before Sweden got it.