Home Science They recover the DNA of a woman trapped in a Paleolithic pendant

They recover the DNA of a woman trapped in a Paleolithic pendant

They recover the DNA of a woman trapped in a Paleolithic pendant

Artifacts made from stone or bone structures offer insight into the behavior and culture of humans in the Paleolithic. Objects made from animal bones or teeth are especially interesting because they are porous, allowing bodily fluids containing DNA, such as sweat, blood or saliva, to penetrate.

This genetic material, in turn, can be used to deduce who the manufacturers or users of these artifacts were. However, extracting DNA from ancient skeletal material can destroy or alter specimens by subjecting them to aggressive extraction methods, making it difficult to link these objects to specific human individuals.

An innovative, non-invasive method has made it possible to recover ancient DNA from the tooth of a deer and the human who used it as an ornament.

To address this, an international team of researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany) has developed a non-destructive method for extracting DNA, in which objects are immersed in a sodium phosphate buffer solution while gradually increasing the temperature.

The DNA trapped in old bone and teeth is thus released into the solution and allows for further sequencing and analysis, as detailed by its authors this week in the journal Nature.

The researchers applied this method to a deer tooth pendant from Denisova Cave, in southern Siberia (Russia), and were able to recover DNA from an elk (a species of deer) and an ancient human.

Entrance to Denisova cave (Russia). /Richard G. Roberts

The pendant’s age has been estimated to be approximately 19,000 to 25,000 years old.

With the new technique, it was possible to recover “human and deer mitochondrial genomes, which allowed us to estimate the age of the pendant at approximately 19,000-25,000 years”, point out the authors.

The researchers note that using DNA to make these estimates also avoids taking destructive samples for radiocarbon dating.

Female related to the population of northern Siberia

For its part, “nuclear DNA analysis identifies the alleged creator or wearer of the pendant as a female individual with strong genetic affinities with a group of ancient settlers from northern Eurasia who lived at the same time, but previously have only been found more east into Siberia,” according to the study.

With this technique, cultural and genetic records in prehistoric archeology can be related.

The authors conclude that their work demonstrates the potential of this type of prehistoric artifact as a hitherto unexplored source of ancient human DNA, which makes it possible to directly link cultural and genetic records in prehistoric archaeology.

They also suggest that archaeologists apply protocols to minimize handling during and after excavation, as surface contamination of DNA can make this type of reanalysis difficult.

Researcher Elena Essel analyzes the perforated deer tooth. / Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology


Elena Essel and others. “Ancient human DNA recovered from a Paleolithic pendant”. Nature, 2023

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