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Professor Thomas McGovern on the Changing DNA of the Arctic Fox In Relation to Migration in the Viking Age

"CUNY faculty and graduate students in archaeology have collaborated with an international team of geneticists and biologists in a study of the arctic fox in Iceland. Prior to colonization by Viking Age settlers around AD 850, arctic foxes were the only land mammals on this mid-Atlantic island, probably arriving in early Holocene times across drift ice from Greenland. Comparison of modern Icelandic fox DNA with the ancient DNA extracted from fox bones excavated by CUNY teams from Viking Age sites in Iceland reveals that a second migration took place, probably during the drift ice periods of the "Little Ice Age" of the 17th-18th century. This collaboration among archaeologists, biochemists, and biogeographers provides an example of growing inter-disciplinary collaboration linking natural and social science. Supported by NSF Arctic Social Sciences program, CUNY archaeologists have collaborated with Scandinavian, Canadian, and UK partners in many seasons of excavation of sites in Iceland dating from the first settlement down to the 19th century and they specialize in zooarchaeology (the analysis of excavated animal bones). CUNY is a lead institution in the international North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO,, which sponsors cross-disciplinary collaboration across the region. Other ongoing collaborations with aDNA researchers include investigation of the origin and spread of Viking pigs and sheep across the North Atlantic and the genetics of pre-modern codfish stocks. The CUNY team included doctoral students Seth Brewington, Frank Feeley, George Hambrecht, Ramona Harrison, Megan Hicks, Brenda Prehal, and Konrad Smiarowski who identified fox bones from Viking Age Iceland at the Hunter Zooarchaeology Laboratory directed by Prof. Tom McGovern."

More information from the New Scienitist Webapage.

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