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DNA from 25,000-year-old tooth pendant reveals lady who wore it



A pierced deer tooth found in Denisova collapse Siberia

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

DNA that seeped into an elk tooth pendant about 25,000 years in the past has yielded clues concerning the historical lady who wore it.

The tooth, worn as a necklace bead, in all probability absorbed DNA from the individual’s sweat because it lay towards her chest and neck. Marie Soressi at Leiden College within the Netherlands and her colleagues have been capable of extract that DNA with out damaging the tooth via a brand new course of that took eight years to develop. The method would possibly reveal unprecedented particulars concerning the social customs and gender roles of historical populations, says Soressi.

“For the first time, we can link an object to individuals,” she says. “So, for example, were bone needles made and used by only women, or also men? Were those bone-tipped spears made and used only by men, or also by women? With this new technique, we can finally start talking about that and investigating the roles of individuals according to their biological sex or their genetic identity and family relationships.”

Scientists have typically suspected that historical instruments, weapons, decorative beads and different crafted artefacts include DNA from the individuals who touched them. However getting DNA out of those objects usually means eradicating sections for evaluation – inflicting everlasting injury. “We absolutely didn’t want to do that,” says Soressi.

To see if DNA may very well be coaxed out of historical artefacts with out destroying them, Soressi and her colleagues examined quite a few mixtures of chemical substances and heating regimes on 10 beforehand excavated artefacts from Palaeolithic caves in France. They discovered that putting them in a sodium phosphate resolution and elevating the temperature incrementally from 21°C to 90°C (70°F to 194°F) led to the discharge of comparatively giant quantities of human DNA with no injury to the specimens.

The crew then examined the process on one other 15 excavated bone specimens from one of many caves. Genetic sequencing revealed DNA from many various people – in all probability the scientists and technicians who had labored with the artefacts throughout the years, says Soressi.

To keep away from such fashionable DNA contamination, the researchers then tried their method on 4 tooth pendants excavated by colleagues in Russia and Bulgaria who wore sterile gloves and face masks. Their evaluation revealed largely animal DNA that matched the species used to make the pendants.

One tooth pendant from Denisova cave in Russia, nevertheless, additionally contained human DNA fragments, primarily from a single particular person. There was sufficient genetic materials for the researchers to positively determine a feminine Homo sapiens, along with the elk (Cervus canadensis) that offered the tooth.

Whereas the human might need rubbed her DNA into the pendant if she had crafted it, the big amount of DNA recovered suggests she was the person who wore it, says Soressi. “As a porous material, that tooth was likely soaking in sweat,” she says. “It worked like a sponge, pulling in that human DNA and trapping it there for 25,000 years.”

The DNA confirmed that the lady was carefully associated to an historical tribe that, to this point, had solely been discovered greater than 1500 kilometres to the east.

Daniella Bar-Yosef Mayer at Tel-Aviv College, Israel, finds the paper “very exciting”, partly as a result of it might assist clarify the aim of historical jewelry. For instance, it would sign one thing concerning the identification of the wearer or their group, or their marital standing, she says. “If we find them in different contexts on men, on women or children of this species or another species, or different age groups, that would give us some better clues about what they’re meant for.”

The method may also assist resolve long-running scientific debates about whether or not sure artefacts have been made and worn by Homo sapiens or Neanderthals, she provides.

The examine might open the door to DNA analyses of museum artefacts throughout the globe, says David Frayer on the College of Kansas. “Curators are often hesitant to allow their specimens to be damaged for DNA analysis, however small the extraction,” he says. “The absolute strength of this paper is that [their] procedure gets around that. If it can be extended to specimens cleaned long ago, this would represent a great leap forward for ancient DNA work.”


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