Scientists extracted DNA from 2,000-year-old human remains

antikythera-bones-brett-symour-eua
Researchers documenting human remains found near a shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera, Greece. Source: Brett Seymour, EUA/WHOI/ARGO. Nature article “Human skeleton found on famed Antikythera shipwreck”

Luck and science united when underwater archaeologists found a set of 2,000-year-old human remains that still contained DNA near an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera, according to an article in “Nature.”

In the this article, Hannes Schroeder, an ancient-DNA specialist from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, examined the “partial skull with three teeth, two arm bones, several rib pieces and two femurs” uncovered on August 31, 2016. During his examination he discovered the skull fragments contained both petrous bones.  These formations behind the ears are known to preserve DNA more effectively than teeth or other bones in the human body.

According to the article, Schroeder said “It’s amazing you guys found that.”

The opportunity for archaeologists and DNA experts to analyze the newly discovered remains of a human who died 2,000 years ago in a shipwreck is rare. It is more probable that fish and tides will disarticulate the body before there is an archaeological excavation. However, if researchers do find human remains, they could inaccurately  collect the bones and degrade the DNA or it will be contaminated during analysis, according to the article.

Ancient-DNA analysis began when scientists used bacteria to enhance DNA pulled from the skin of an Egyptian mummy. Scientists then used Polymerase Chain Reaction to study ancient-DNA, but it became obvious that PCR could be easily contaminated by modern DNA, according to an article published in Genetics Selection Evolution.

In the article “Ancient DNA: do it right or not at all” the authors—Cooper and Poinar—promote certain practices to lessen the likelihood of contamination.  These methods cover recommended work space locations to lab protocols.

Since archaeologists properly collected the human remains at the Antikythera wreck and scientists are armed with the recommendations of  Cooper and Poinar, hopefully, the DNA of these human remains will illuminate an unknown aspect of Mediterranean culture.

 

 

 

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