Anthropometric Variation Among Bering Sea Natives


Recent research indicates that anthropometrics can be used to study microevolutionary forces acting on humans. We examine the use of morphological traits in reconstructing the population history of Aleuts and Eskimos of the Bering Sea. From 1979 to 1981, W. S. Laughlin measured a sample of St. Lawrence Island Eskimos and Pribilof Island Aleuts. These samples included adult participants from St. George and St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands and from Gambell and Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island. The Relethford- Blangero method was used to examine the phylogenetic relationship between Aleuts and Eskimos. Anthropometric measurements for Native North Americans (measured by Boas and a team of trained anthropometrists in 1890–1904) and Native Mesoamericans (compiled from the literature for 1898–1952) were used for comparison. A principal components analysis of means for measurements and a neighbor-joining tree were constructed using Euclidean distances. All these tests revealed the same strong relationship among the focus populations. The R matrix from the Relethford-Blangero method clusters Aleuts and Eskimos separately and accounts for 97.3% of the variation in the data. Phenotypic variation within the population is minimal and therefore minimum FST values are low. Genetic distances were compared to a Euclidean distance matrix of anthropometric measurements using a Mantel test and gave a high but not significant correlation. Our results provide evidence of a close phylogenetic relationship between Aleut and Eskimo populations in the Bering Sea. However, it is apparent that history has affected the relationship among the populations. Despite previous findings of higher European admixture in Gambell (based on blood group markers) than in Savoonga, Savoonga has greater within-group variation in anthropometric measurements. Anthropometrics reveal a close relationship between Gambell and St. Paul as a result of European admixture. The St. George population was the most divergent of the populations, indicating that it diverged from the Eskimos and St. Paul because of the compounding effects of genetic drift and limited European gene flow. These findings are in agreement with previous anthropometric and genetic studies of the Aleut and Eskimo populations and support the utility of anthropometrics in inferring population history and structure.