Evidence of authentic DNA from Danish Viking Age skeletons untouched by humans for 1,000 years.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Given the relative abundance of modern human DNA and the inherent impossibility for incontestable proof of authenticity, results obtained on ancient human DNA have often been questioned. The widely accepted rules regarding ancient DNA work mainly affect laboratory procedures, however, pre-laboratory contamination occurring during excavation and archaeological-/anthropological handling of human remains as well as rapid degradation of authentic DNA after excavation are major obstacles. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We avoided some of these obstacles by analyzing DNA from ten Viking Age subjects that at the time of sampling were untouched by humans for 1,000 years. We removed teeth from the subjects prior to handling by archaeologists and anthropologists using protective equipment. An additional tooth was removed after standard archaeological and anthropological handling. All pre-PCR work was carried out in a "clean- laboratory" dedicated solely to ancient DNA work. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted and overlapping fragments spanning the HVR-1 region as well as diagnostic sites in the coding region were PCR amplified, cloned and sequenced. Consistent results were obtained with the "unhandled" teeth and there was no indication of contamination, while the latter was the case with half of the "handled" teeth. The results allowed the unequivocal assignment of a specific haplotype to each of the subjects, all haplotypes being compatible in their character states with a phylogenetic tree drawn from present day European populations. Several of the haplotypes are either infrequent or have not been observed in modern Scandinavians. The observation of haplogroup I in the present study (<2% in modern Scandinavians) supports our previous findings of a pronounced frequency of this haplogroup in Viking and Iron Age Danes. CONCLUSION: The present work provides further evidence that retrieval of ancient human DNA is a possible task provided adequate precautions are taken and well-considered sampling is applied.
Project description:Using established criteria for work with fossil DNA we have analysed mitochondrial DNA from 92 individuals from 18 locations in Denmark ranging in time from the Mesolithic to the Medieval Age. Unequivocal assignment of mtDNA haplotypes was possible for 56 of the ancient individuals; however, the success rate varied substantially between sites; the highest rates were obtained with untouched, freshly excavated material, whereas heavy handling, archeological preservation and storage for many years influenced the ability to obtain authentic endogenic DNA. While the nucleotide diversity at two locations was similar to that among extant Danes, the diversity at four sites was considerably higher. This supports previous observations for ancient Britons. The overall occurrence of haplogroups did not deviate from extant Scandinavians, however, haplogroup I was significantly more frequent among the ancient Danes (average 13%) than among extant Danes and Scandinavians (approximately 2.5%) as well as among other ancient population samples reported. Haplogroup I could therefore have been an ancient Southern Scandinavian type "diluted" by later immigration events. Interestingly, the two Neolithic samples (4,200 YBP, Bell Beaker culture) that were typed were haplogroup U4 and U5a, respectively, and the single Bronze Age sample (3,300-3,500 YBP) was haplogroup U4. These two haplogroups have been associated with the Mesolithic populations of Central and Northern Europe. Therefore, at least for Southern Scandinavia, our findings do not support a possible replacement of a haplogroup U dominated hunter-gatherer population by a more haplogroup diverse Neolithic Culture.
Project description:Knowledge of the range and chronology of historic trade and long-distance transport of natural resources is essential for determining the impacts of past human activities on marine environments. However, the specific biological sources of imported fauna are often difficult to identify, in particular if species have a wide spatial distribution and lack clear osteological or isotopic differentiation between populations. Here, we report that ancient fish-bone remains, despite being porous, brittle, and light, provide an excellent source of endogenous DNA (15-46%) of sufficient quality for whole-genome reconstruction. By comparing ancient sequence data to that of modern specimens, we determine the biological origin of 15 Viking Age (800-1066 CE) and subsequent medieval (1066-1280 CE) Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) specimens from excavation sites in Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Archaeological context indicates that one of these sites was a fishing settlement for the procurement of local catches, whereas the other localities were centers of trade. Fish from the trade sites show a mixed ancestry and are statistically differentiated from local fish populations. Moreover, Viking Age samples from Haithabu, Germany, are traced back to the North East Arctic Atlantic cod population that has supported the Lofoten fisheries of Norway for centuries. Our results resolve a long-standing controversial hypothesis and indicate that the marine resources of the North Atlantic Ocean were used to sustain an international demand for protein as far back as the Viking Age.
Project description:Bones, teeth and hair are often the only physical evidence of human or animal presence at an archaeological site; they are also the most widely used sources of samples for ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis. Unfortunately, the DNA extracted from ancient samples, already scarce and highly degraded, is widely susceptible to exogenous contaminations that can affect the reliability of aDNA studies. We evaluated the molecular effects of sample handling on five human skeletons freshly excavated from a cemetery dated between the 11 to the 14(th) century. We collected specimens from several skeletal areas (teeth, ribs, femurs and ulnas) from each individual burial. We then divided the samples into two different sets: one labeled as "virgin samples" (i.e. samples that were taken by archaeologists under contamination-controlled conditions and then immediately sent to the laboratory for genetic analyses), and the second called "lab samples"(i.e. samples that were handled without any particular precautions and subject to normal washing, handling and measuring procedures in the osteological lab). Our results show that genetic profiles from "lab samples" are incomplete or ambiguous in the different skeletal areas while a different outcome is observed in the "virgin samples" set. Generally, all specimens from different skeletal areas in the exception of teeth present incongruent results between "lab" and "virgin" samples. Therefore teeth are less prone to contamination than the other skeletal areas we analyzed and may be considered a material of choice for classical aDNA studies. In addition, we showed that bones can also be a good candidate for human aDNA analysis if they come directly from the excavation site and are accompanied by a clear taphonomic history.
Project description:BACKGROUND: House mice (Mus musculus) are commensals of humans and therefore their phylogeography can reflect human colonization and settlement patterns. Previous studies have linked the distribution of house mouse mitochondrial (mt) DNA clades to areas formerly occupied by the Norwegian Vikings in Norway and the British Isles. Norwegian Viking activity also extended further westwards in the North Atlantic with the settlement of Iceland, short-lived colonies in Greenland and a fleeting colony in Newfoundland in 1000 AD. Here we investigate whether house mouse mtDNA sequences reflect human history in these other regions as well. RESULTS: House mice samples from Iceland, whether from archaeological Viking Age material or from modern-day specimens, had an identical mtDNA haplotype to the clade previously linked with Norwegian Vikings. From mtDNA and microsatellite data, the modern-day Icelandic mice also share the low genetic diversity shown by their human hosts on Iceland. Viking Age mice from Greenland had an mtDNA haplotype deriving from the Icelandic haplotype, but the modern-day Greenlandic mice belong to an entirely different mtDNA clade. We found no genetic association between modern Newfoundland mice and the Icelandic/ancient Greenlandic mice (no ancient Newfoundland mice were available). The modern day Icelandic and Newfoundland mice belong to the subspecies M. m. domesticus, the Greenlandic mice to M. m. musculus. CONCLUSIONS: In the North Atlantic region, human settlement history over a thousand years is reflected remarkably by the mtDNA phylogeny of house mice. In Iceland, the mtDNA data show the arrival and continuity of the house mouse population to the present day, while in Greenland the data suggest the arrival, subsequent extinction and recolonization of house mice--in both places mirroring the history of the European human host populations. If house mice arrived in Newfoundland with the Viking settlers at all, then, like the humans, their presence was also fleeting and left no genetic trace. The continuity of mtDNA haplotype in Iceland over 1000 years illustrates that mtDNA can retain the signature of the ancestral house mouse founders. We also show that, in terms of genetic variability, house mouse populations may also track their host human populations.
Project description:In November and December 2013, unidentified human skeletal remains buried in a mokgwakmyo (a traditional wooden coffin) were unearthed while conducting an archaeological investigation near Gyeongju, which was the capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 BCE- 660 CE) of ancient Korea. The human skeletal remains were preserved in relatively intact condition. In an attempt to obtain biological information on the skeleton, physical anthropological, mitochondrial DNA, stable isotope and craniofacial analyses were carried out. The results indicated that the individual was a female from the Silla period, of 155 ± 5 cm height, who died in her late thirties. The maternal lineage belonged to the haplogroup F1b1a, typical for East Asia, and the diet had been more C3- (wheat, rice and potatoes) than C4-based (maize, millet and other tropical grains). Finally, the face of the individual was reconstructed utilizing the skull (restored from osseous fragments) and three-dimensional computerized modeling system. This study, applying multi-dimensional approaches within an overall bio-anthropological analysis, was the first attempt to collect holistic biological information on human skeletal remains dating to the Silla Kingdom period of ancient Korea.
Project description:Large-scale genomic analyses of ancient human populations have become feasible partly due to refined sampling methods. The inner part of petrous bones and the cementum layer in teeth roots are currently recognized as the best substrates for such research. We present a comparative analysis of DNA preservation in these two substrates obtained from the same human skulls, across a range of different ages and preservation environments. Both substrates display significantly higher endogenous DNA content (average of 16.4% and 40.0% for teeth and petrous bones, respectively) than parietal skull bone (average of 2.2%). Despite sample-to-sample variation, petrous bone overall performs better than tooth cementum (p = 0.001). This difference, however, is driven largely by a cluster of viking skeletons from one particular locality, showing relatively poor molecular tooth preservation (<10% endogenous DNA). In the remaining skeletons there is no systematic difference between the two substrates. A crude preservation (good/bad) applied to each sample prior to DNA-extraction predicted the above/below 10% endogenous DNA threshold in 80% of the cases. Interestingly, we observe signficantly higher levels of cytosine to thymine deamination damage and lower proportions of mitochondrial/nuclear DNA in petrous bone compared to tooth cementum. Lastly, we show that petrous bones from ancient cremated individuals contain no measurable levels of authentic human DNA. Based on these findings we discuss the pros and cons of sampling the different elements.
Project description:Takabuti, was a female who lived in ancient Egypt during the 25th Dynasty, c.660 BCE. Her mummified remains were brought to Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1834 and are currently displayed in the Ulster Museum. To gain insight into Takabuti's ancestry, we used deep sampling of vertebral bone, under X-ray control, to obtain non-contaminated bone tissue from which we extracted ancient DNA (aDNA) using established protocols. We targeted the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), known to be highly informative for human ancestry, and identified 38 single nucleotide variants using next generation sequencing. The specific combination of these SNVs suggests that Takabuti belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup H4a1. Neither H4 nor H4a1 have been reported in ancient Egyptian samples, prior to this study. The modern distribution of H4a1 is rare and sporadic and has been identified in areas including the Canary Islands, southern Iberia and the Lebanon. H4a1 has also been reported in ancient samples from Bell Beaker and Unetice contexts in Germany, as well as Bronze Age Bulgaria. We believe that this is an important finding because first, it adds to the depth of knowledge about the distribution of the H4a1 haplogroup in existing mtDNA, thus creating a baseline for future occurrences of this haplogroup in ancient Egyptian remains. Second, it is of great importance for archaeological sciences, since a predominantly European haplogroup has been identified in an Egyptian individual in Southern Egypt, prior to the Roman and Greek influx (332BCE).
Project description:In 1985, a frozen mummy was found in Cerro Aconcagua (Argentina). Archaeological studies identified the mummy as a seven-year-old Inca sacrifice victim who lived >500 years ago, at the time of the expansion of the Inca Empire towards the southern cone. The sequence of its entire mitogenome was obtained. After querying a large worldwide database of mitogenomes (>28,000) we found that the Inca haplotype belonged to a branch of haplogroup C1b (C1bi) that has not yet been identified in modern Native Americans. The expansion of C1b into the Americas, as estimated using 203 C1b mitogenomes, dates to the initial Paleoindian settlements (~18.3 thousand years ago [kya]); however, its internal variation differs between Mesoamerica and South America. By querying large databases of control region haplotypes (>150,000), we found only a few C1bi members in Peru and Bolivia (e.g. Aymaras), including one haplotype retrieved from ancient DNA of an individual belonging to the Wari Empire (Peruvian Andes). Overall, the results suggest that the profile of the mummy represents a very rare sub-clade that arose 14.3 (5-23.6) kya and could have been more frequent in the past. A Peruvian Inca origin for present-day C1bi haplotypes would satisfy both the genetic and paleo-anthropological findings.
Project description:The human mitochondrial haplogroup C1 has a broad global distribution but is extremely rare in Europe today. Recent ancient DNA evidence has demonstrated its presence in European Mesolithic individuals. Three individuals from the 7,500 year old Mesolithic site of Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov, Western Russia, could be assigned to haplogroup C1 based on mitochondrial hypervariable region I sequences. However, hypervariable region I data alone could not provide enough resolution to establish the phylogenetic relationship of these Mesolithic haplotypes with haplogroup C1 mitochondrial DNA sequences found today in populations of Europe, Asia and the Americas. In order to obtain high-resolution data and shed light on the origin of this European Mesolithic C1 haplotype, we target-enriched and sequenced the complete mitochondrial genome of one Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov C1 individual. The updated phylogeny of C1 haplogroups indicated that the Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov haplotype represents a new distinct clade, provisionally coined "C1f". We show that all three C1 carriers of Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov belong to this clade. No haplotype closely related to the C1f sequence could be found in the large current database of ancient and present-day mitochondrial genomes. Hence, we have discovered past human mitochondrial diversity that has not been observed in modern-day populations so far. The lack of positive matches in modern populations may be explained by under-sampling of rare modern C1 carriers or by demographic processes, population extinction or replacement, that may have impacted on populations of Northeast Europe since prehistoric times.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Recent advances in the next-generation sequencing (NGS) allowed the metagenomic analyses of DNA from many different environments and sources, including thousands of years old skeletal remains. It has been shown that most of the DNA extracted from ancient samples is microbial. There are several reports demonstrating that the considerable fraction of extracted DNA belonged to the bacteria accompanying the studied individuals before their death. RESULTS:In this study we scanned 344 microbiomes from 1000- and 2000- year-old human teeth. The datasets originated from our previous studies on human ancient DNA (aDNA) and on microbial DNA accompanying human remains. We previously noticed that in many samples infection-related species have been identified, among them Tannerella forsythia, one of the most prevalent oral human pathogens. Samples containing sufficient amount of T. forsythia aDNA for a complete genome assembly were selected for thorough analyses. We confirmed that the T. forsythia-containing samples have higher amounts of the periodontitis-associated species than the control samples. Despites, other pathogens-derived aDNA was found in the tested samples it was too fragmented and damaged to allow any reasonable reconstruction of these bacteria genomes. The anthropological examination of ancient skulls from which the T. forsythia-containing samples were obtained revealed the pathogenic alveolar bone loss in tooth areas characteristic for advanced periodontitis. Finally, we analyzed the genetic material of ancient T. forsythia strains. As a result, we assembled four ancient T. forsythia genomes - one 2000- and three 1000- year-old. Their comparison with contemporary T. forsythia genomes revealed a lower genetic diversity within the four ancient strains than within contemporary strains. We also investigated the genes of T. forsythia virulence factors and found that several of them (KLIKK protease and bspA genes) differ significantly between ancient and modern bacteria. CONCLUSIONS:In summary, we showed that NGS screening of the ancient human microbiome is a valid approach for the identification of disease-associated microbes. Following this protocol, we provided a new set of information on the emergence, evolution and virulence factors of T. forsythia, the member of the oral dysbiotic microbiome.