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Blood groups of Canadian Indians and Eskimos.

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King’s College, University of L o d o n
During the summer of 1928 I organized an expedition down
the Mackenzie River in Canada t o the Arctic. One of the
objects of the expedition was to study the blood groups of the
various Indian tribes in the Mackenzie River Valley and of
the Eskimos near the mouth of that river. I was accompanied
by Mr. K. Mellanby, of Cambridge, who acted as assistant.
The expedition was made possible by the facilities provided
by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which has numerous trading
posts throughout the vast territory of the Canadian Northwest. To Messrs. Parke, Davis & Co. and St. Mary’s Hospital, London, I am indebted for a supply of the sera used
in taking the blood groups. I have also to thank Mr. D.
Jenness, Chief of the Division of Anthropology, Ottawa,
Canada, for some useful information regarding the distribution of the various Indian tribes in the Mackenzie River
Valley and around Lake Athabaska and Great Slave Lake.
I am further indebted to the Canadian Government f o r the
duty-free entry of my equipment, and also for the provision
of maps and other facilities.
Since the original discovery independently by Shattock
( ’00) and Landsteiner ( ’00) that the serum from certain individuals would agglutinate or clump the red cells from certain others, this subject has developed into a large field of
work with an immense literature, which has recently been
summarized by Hirszfeld (’28). It may be briefly stated that
the blood grouping of an individual was found to depend upon
the presence o r absence of two isoagglutinogens, called A
and B, in the red blood corpuscles. Any person's blood cells
may contain A or B or neither or both. The serum from A
will agglutinate the red corpuscles of B, and the serum from
a B individual will agglutinate the cells of a person belonging
to group A. Agglutinins in the blood serum act on specific
receptors (agglutinogens) in the red corpuscles and cause the
clumping. It is generally assumed that only the agglutinogens
are inherited, but the relation of the serum to inheritance
requires further investigation. Thus are derived the four
blood groups. According t o the scheme of Jansky, now usually followed, the groups are as follows: group 1-0 (absence of both A and B agglutinogens), group I1 contains A,
group I11 possesses B, and group I V has both A and B.
The first interest attaching to blood groups was, of course,
in connection with blood transfusion, for it explained why
transfusion could take place successfully between certain individuals, while with others a more o r less violent reaction
resulted. Members of group I are thus 'universal donors,'
since they agglutinate the corpuscles of no other type, while
members of group I V are universal recipients. Owing to
the inheritance of these haemagglutinogens, the blood grouping has also been used as evidence in cases of disputed
parentage. It may further be pointed out that, while A and
B were for some time regarded as independent of each other
in inheritance, each being dominant to its absence, they are
now, through the work of Bernstein ('25) and Furuhata ('27),
generally regarded as multiple allelomorphs, or, in other
words, as representing independent germinal changes or
mutations in the same locus of the germ plasm. It may be
pointed out, however, that Bauer ( '28) has recently produced
evidence in favor of the presence of two independent factors
with crossing-over between them. That the blood of each
individual depends upon fixed hereditary factors, no one now
doubts, but we need not enter here into details of the manner
of inheritance.
The serological study of human races and populations from
an anthropological point of view began during the war, and
in 1919 the Hirszfelds demonstrated that races differ in the
percentages of the four groups, i.e., 0, A, B, and AB, or I,
11,111,and IV. Since that time, an immense amount of work
in blood grouping has been done with races in nearly all
parts of the world. Among the results derived from thess
blood tests may be mentioned the suggestion that A originated
in Europe and B in southern Asia, the human race originally
being all of group 0. This conclusion was based on the relatively high percentage of A in most European populations
(except those, such as the Gypsies, who have recently come
from the East) and the high frequency of B in the eastern
Asiatic races. The subsequent spread and present distribution of A and B would then result from migration and intercrossing of races. From evidence to be brought out later, it
appears probable, on the same basis of reasoning, that €3
originated through a much later mutation than A. The fact
that these agglutinogens have since been found in anthropoid
apes does not necessarily vitiate this argument, for the phenomena of parallel mutations make it possible for them to
have originated independently in different species or even
in the same species. Rut if, as seems probable, A and B have
arisen but once in the human species, then the percentage of
0 (group I) in any particular race might be regarded as a
measure of its isolation from the original centers of dispersal
of A and B.
The LapIanders of Sweden are interesting from this point
of view. Rietz ('27) found the following grouping from tests
of 199 Lapps : 0, 53. per cent ; A, 42 per cent; B, 3 per cent ;
AB, 4 per cent. Pure-blooded Lapps can no longer be found.
The high percentage of A indicates proximity of European
races over a long period, and the very low value of B shows
their non-Mongoloid origin. Their percentage of 0, however,
is much lower than that of the Amerinds, in whom it ranges
from 70 per cent to 91 per cent (Coca and Deibert, '23 ; Nigg,
'26; Snyder, '26), and this indicates less isolation from Abearing races.
The view that the percentage of 0 is a measure of isolation
is of interest in its application to the North American Indians.
Numerous tests by different authors (see also Snyder, '27)
agree in showing that the bulk of the Indians belong to group
I (0),a small percentage to A, and a still smaller one to B.
It has even been suggested that all pure-blooded Indians must
belong to group I, the presence of A or B being an indication
of intermingling with the white man during the last three
centuries. The writer does not, however, believe it to be
necessary to draw the last conclusion. Anthropologists
are agreed that the Indians of North America came across
Behring Strait. No doubt this was a gradual trickle of population over long periods. If the main bulk of Indian ancestors
were isolated in America before the A agglutinogen had
spread eastward from Europe, then the paucity of A in this
race would be accounted for. If the similarities pointed out
by Hrdli6ka ('26) between Amerinds and Thibetans, in physique, behavior, dress, and even in the intonations of their
language, are significant as indicating the origin of the Indian
race, then it would be necessary to assume that B arose
in southern Asia long after A appeared in Europe; otherwise
the Indians would have been 'contaminated' with B before
they reached the northeastern corner of the Asiatic continent.
There is another and perhaps more cogent argument for A
being older in origin than B. As pointed out by Hirszfeld
( '28, S. 114), the Australian aborigines agree with the American Indians in having very little B, but differ from them in
having a markedly high percentage of A-over 50 per cent in
some of the statistics. This, combined with the almost or
quite complete absence of B in such a primitive race, argues
for a much later origin of B than A, especially as the center
of origin of A is, according to hypothesis, much more remote
from them than is that of B. This assumption of a great difference in time as well as place in the origin of A and B
will help to explain many otherwise anomalous conditions in
the present blood grouping of races.
However all this may be, it is difficult to exclude the possibility that the small percentage of A and B in the North
American Indians has been due to crosses with whites during
the last ten generations. Snyder ('26) has shown that
Indians known to be of mixed descent have a higher percentage of agglutinogens than those regarded as pure-blooded.
A further argument on this point will be deferred until the
new results regarding Indians and Eskimos have been presented.
A word is necessary regarding the conditions under which
the blood tests were carried out. Where a missionary hospital
was available, the serological determinations were made there.
I n other cases it was necessary to visit the Indian tents with
an interpreter. The difficulties were also increased by t,he
fact that all the Indians were either ill or just recovering from
a severe epidemic of influenza, the death rate from which
reached 10 per cent in some places. The tests were made by
puncturing the lobe of the left ear with a surgeon's needle
and adding a drop of the blood to a drop of each of the two
sera on a white porcelain plate. After carefully mixing the
blood and serum in each drop, the agglutination of corpuscles,
if it occurred at all, invariably took place within five minutes.
It was usually easily visible to the naked eye, but occasionally
the agglutination was so fine as to require a hand lens to
make certain of its presence. Each drop was therefore examined with a lens. I n the absence of agglutination it presented a perfectly uniform field of red corpuscles. Care was
required to adjust the amount of blood to the size of the drop
of serum, so as to get a uniform pale-red drop when the two
were mixed. Too much blood or too little obscured the result.
It has also been suggested that the first drop of blood, which
may contain fragments of broken tissue, should not be used,
but I am not convinced that this makes a difference in the
agglutination. Incidentally, it may be remarked that individuals differ enormously in the vascularity of their ears.
I n some, care is necessary to avoid obtaining too much blood,
while in others, especially old people, it may be difficult to
get any flow. Young children also usually have less vascular
ear lobes.
At Hay River on Great Slave Lake, in Lat. 61"N., there is a
large Anglican missionary school which receives children
from about seven to fourteen years of age. Here were examined a number of Loucheux Indian children from Fort
MacPherson on the Peel River (Lat.67"N.) and several
Eskimo children from various points on the Arctic coast near
the mouth of the Mackenzie. I n addition, several Slavey
Indian families living at Hay River were tested. Slaveys
were also tested at Fort Simpson, a few Dogribs at Fort
Norman, Hares at Fort Good Hope, and Loucheux at Arctic
Red River. These places are all on the Mackenzie River. The
whole native population of the Mackenzie Valley and Great
Slave Lake consists of about 4000 Indians, who are rapidly
diminishing in numbers through various epidemics. It is well
known that the tribes mentioned, together with the Yellowknives north of Slave Lake and the Chipewayans around Lake
Athabaska, all belong to the Athabaskan group. They are
physically indistinguishable and speak similar languages, the
differences only amounting to dialects in certain cases.
The Hares and the Loucheux appear to differ temperamentally from the other tribes. They live near or north of
the Arctic Circle, in a region of continuous summer light and
winter darkness. Both tribes show greater vivacity and intelligence than the Slaveys and other tribes farther up the
Mackenzie River, who are passive, stodgy, and appear less
intelligent. Regarding the Dogribs, of whom I saw very few,
I obtained various opinions. Some regard them as the most
primitive and degraded of all the tribes in this region. But
the French-Canadian doctor at Fort Resolution, who makes
yearly visits to a community of 800 Dogribs at Fort Rae on
Great Slave Lake, considers them the best of the lot, jolly,
good-natured, progressive, and much better than the Slaveys.
This group of Athapaskan tribes in the Mackenzie Basin
and around Great Slave and Athabaska Lakes would form
the basis of a valuable study on the relative rate of differ-
entiation of physical, mental, and lingual characteristics ; but
it will have to be undertaken promptly, as epidemics and
intercrossing will very soon terminate the existence of the
pure-blooded elements.
Table 1 shows the results obtained, as regards the blood
grouping in the members of each tribe tested.
Loucheux (Tukudh),
these had mixed ancestry.
Two of these had mixed ancestry.
aThis one had lighter skin and eyes and was undoubtedly a half-breed.
' Three of
All these Athapaskan tribes would appear to be alike in
their blood grouping, and in the aggregate they give 84.5 per
cent 0 and 15.5 per cent A. The complete absence of B is a
little surprising on the assumption that the presence of A and
B is entirely due to post-Columbian crosses with Europeans,
but, considering the small numbers, such a result is not statistically impossible.
The tests of Eskimo were made partly on children in the
school at Hay River and partly on adults at Aklavik, in the
delta of the Mackenzie. The number of tests was unfortunately small, as the serum became exhausted before any more
tests could be taken. I n table 2 the Eskimo results are given.
P e r cent 0
P e r cent A
P e r cent B
P e r cent A B
They are in such striking contrast with the Indian tests
that they appear significant, even although the numbers are
so few. If we include the one AB individual, then half the
Eskimos tested contained B-a surprising contrast with the
Indians, among whom not a single B occurred.
The Eskimos are great travelers and many of them come
to Aklavik to meet the steamer. The birthplaces of those
tested were, as f a r as they could be ascertained, as follows:
Alaska, one ( B ) ; Herschel Island, two (B) ; Rfackenzie Delta,
five (two 0, two A, one B) ; Nunatomiok family, four (0, A,
two B) ; Kittigazuit, one (AB) ; Baillie Island, three (0, A,
B). Hence they all but one came from the Arctic coastal area
between Long. 140"W. and 128"W. This region was formerly
frequented by whalers, and intercrossing undoubtedly took
place. The individuals examined, however, showed no signs
of white blood by their skin color or features, except one mentioned below, who was undoubtedly a cross. With this exception, they were regarded as pure-blood Eskimo. In skin
color they were as dark as the Indians. The results of a
study of certain Eskimo-white families will be published elsewhere. They show that an individual who is one-quarter
Eskimo may have a perfectly white skin, thus indicating that
probably only one genetic factor for skin color is present in
this race.
I n how f a r the blood groups obtained are the results of
former miscegenation can only be determined when the blood
groupings of more isolated Eskimo tribes farther east on
the Arctic coast have been obtained. I n the results reported
here, only one showed any physical signs of hybridity. H e
was a boy from Herschel Island, tested at Hay River School.
Unlike the other Eskimos, he bore a white man's name, and
his features clearly showed that he was a half-breed. His
blood test was B.
The only previous record of Eskimo blood groups is by
Heinbecker and Pauli ( '27), who examined 124 Eskimos in the
Thule district of northwest Greenland-the most northerly
people in the world. Leaving out those from Thule itself,
where seventeen (out of fifty-seven) having agglutinogens all
showed white ancestry by their appearance, and omitting
seven others who were known to be half-breeds and one of
unknown parentage, the remaining sixty were all in group I.
In more southerly localities, such as Godhavn, Upernivik, and
Pond Inlet, where the Eskimo population is half-breed, the
ninety-seven tested gave 41 per cent 0,40 per cent A, 8 per
cent B, 10 per cent AB. Although some students of the
Eskimo (e.g., Rasmussen, ’26 ; Rink, ’87 ; Steensby, ’17, and
others) derive them from Indian ancestors driven north to
the Arctic coast, it seems much more likely that they crossed
Behring Strait independently of the Indians and gradually
spread eastward to Green1and.l The presence of the eye-fold,
which the Indians d o not possess, would alone argue for a
separate Mongoloid origin, even if their blood grouping
proves to be the same as that of the Indians. The presence
of a high percentage of B (often 38 to 40 per cent) in Buriats,
Coreans, and Manchurians (data given by Hirszfeld, ’28) suggests the sources from which Eskimos with a similar blood
grouping might have come. The percentage of B in Coreans,
however, varies in different localities from 34 per cent to
7 per cent. If Eskimos with a high percentage of B have not
derived it in recent times from the white man, then it would
be necessary to conclude that they brought their B with them
across Behring Strait and that they are much more recent,
arrivals in America than the Indians. From this point of
view it is desirable that the blood grouping of the Eskimos
among the Chukchi on the Asiatic side of Behring Strait
should be determined, if they still remain distinct.
While it is true that a race which migrates as a whole retains its blood groups, yet it is possible that the gradual
eastward spread of the Eskimo in Arctic America might have
led to the final isolation of a group of people having neither
A nor B. Before deciding that the Eskimo blood grouping
here reported is entirely the result of crossing in recent gener‘This is also contrary to the views of Rudmose Brown ( ’27), who states
(p. 152): “ I t is now generally accepted that they are descended from an
inland people who were led to the Arctic coasts either by following herds of
caribou or pressure by hostile Indian tribes.” It may be pointed out that
Steensby and Rasmussen would derive the Eskimo from inland Indian tribes
west of Hudson Bay in the vicinity of Lake Yathkyed; while Rink based his
views on transitions between the two races, both in physical characters and in
culture, on the western coast of Alaska. These transitions were very probably
the result of racial contact and intermixture.
ations, it is very important that the relatively remote colonies
in Coronation Gulf and other parts of Arctic Canada should
be tested. It is hoped that arrangements may be undertaken
for this to be done in the next few years. If uncontaminated
Eskimo proved to have a high percentage of B, then one might
be justified in arguing that they had crossed Behring Strait
relatively recently, and later than the Indians; but if they
proved to be nearly or quite devoid of A and B, then one
must assume a much earlier passage of the Strait.2 I n any
case, on other anthropological grounds, it seems very unlikely
that they are derived from Indian ancestors driven northward
into the ice.
1. The results of blood tests of small numbers of Indians
in the Mackenzie River Valley indicate that four different
Athapaskan tribes agree in their blood grouping, the seventyone individuals tested giving 84.5 per cent 0 and 15.5 per cent
A. This is in accordance with blood tests of other Indian
2. I n contrast with these results, the sixteen Eskimos tested,
who came from the region of the Mackenzie River delta and
a few hundred miles of Arctic coast east and west of this
area, gave 25 per cent 0, 25 per cent A, 44 per cent B, and
6 per cent AB. This may be due to crossing with whites,
although there is no evidence of it in the physical appearance
of these Eskimos. These facts are discussed in relation to
theories of blood-grouping origin and dispersal and anthropological views of the origin of the Eskimo and Indians.
3. It is suggested that the agglutinogen A arose in the
human race much earlier than B.
* The discovery, by Rasmussen and others, of a Paleo-Eskimo culture along
the whole Arctic coast shows that the advent of the Eskimo could not in any
case have been very recent.
BAUER,K. H. 1928 Zur Losuiig des Problems der Blutgruppenvererbung. Klin.
Wochenschr., Bd. 7, S. 1588-1592.
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BROWN,R. N. RUDMOSE1927 The Polar regions. London: Methuen.
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T. 1927 On the heredity of the blood groups. Japan Medical
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R. H. 1927 Blood grouping of the Polar Eskimo.
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L. 1928 Konstitutionsserologie und Blutgruppenforschung. Berlin :
L. AND H. 1919 Serological differences between the blood of different races. Lancet, vol. 197, pp. 675-679.
HRDLIEKA,A. 1926 The peopling of the earth. Proc. Amer. Phil. Soe., 701.
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K. 1900 Zur Kenntnis der antifermentativen, lytischen und
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f. Bakt., Parasitenk. u. Infektionskrankh., Bd. 27, S. 357-362.
NIGG, CLARA 1926 A study of the blood groups among the American Indians.
Journ. Immunology, vol. 11, pp. 319-322.
RASMUSSEN,K. 1926 The fifth Thule Expedition. Geog. Journ.
RIETZ, T. 1927 The blood group among the Laps in Sweden. Journ. Immunology, vol. 13, pp. 37-39.
RINK, HENRICH L. 1887 The Eskimo tribes: their distribution and characteristics, especially as regards language. London : Williams & Norgate.
(Vol. 1 1 : Meddel. om GrZnland.)
S. G. 1900 Chromocyte clumping in acute pneumonia and certain
other diseases, and the significance of the buffy coat in the shed blood.
Journ. Pathol. and Bacteriol., vol. 6, pp. 3 0 3 4 1 4 .
L. H. 1926 Human blood groups: their inheritance and racial significance. Am. J. Phys. Anthrop., vol. 9, pp. 233-263.
1927 Blood grouping and its practical applications. Arch. Path.
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STEENSBY,H. P. 1917 An anthrogeographical study of the origin of the
Eskimo. Meddel. om Gr@nland,vol. 53.
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