Ancient human DNA recovered from a Palaeolithic pendant

Essel, E., Zavala, E.I., Schulz-Kornas, E., Kozlikin, M.B., Fewlass, H., Vernot, B., Shunkov, M.V., Derevianko, A.P., Douka, K., Barnes, I., Soulier, M.-C., Schmidt, A., Szymanski, M., Tsanova, T., Sirakov, N., Endarova, E., McPherron, S.P., Hublin, J.-J., Kelso, J., Pääbo, S., Hajdinjak, M., Soressi, M., Meyer, M., 2023. Ancient human DNA recovered from a Palaeolithic pendant. Nature.

Artefacts made from stones, bones and teeth are fundamental to our understanding of human subsistence strategies, behaviour and culture in the Pleistocene. Although these resources are plentiful, it is impossible to associate artefacts to specific human individuals1 who can be morphologically or genetically characterized, unless they are found within burials, which are rare in this time period. Thus, our ability to discern the societal roles of Pleistocene individuals based on their biological sex or genetic ancestry is limited2,3,4,5. Here we report the development of a non-destructive method for the gradual release of DNA trapped in ancient bone and tooth artefacts. Application of the method to an Upper Palaeolithic deer tooth pendant from Denisova Cave, Russia, resulted in the recovery of ancient human and deer mitochondrial genomes, which allowed us to estimate the age of the pendant at approximately 19,000–25,000 years. Nuclear DNA analysis identifies the presumed maker or wearer of the pendant as a female individual with strong genetic affinities to a group of Ancient North Eurasian individuals who lived around the same time but were previously found only further east in Siberia. Our work redefines how cultural and genetic records can be linked in prehistoric archaeology.


Read full article

Research Areas: