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Human DNA in Sediment

May 1, 2017

Scientists develop a new technique for finding ancient DNA in rock sediments.


El Sidrón research team

Excavations at the site of El Sidrón, Spain. (El Sidrón research team)


DNA from ancient dirt. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

DNA from ancient humans and our other hominem relatives can tell us a lot about human origins. But the fossil bones generally needed to extract this DNA are incredibly rare. Now in the journal Science, Max Planck Institute geneticist Viviane Slon and her colleagues describe extracting bits of hominin DNA from ancient soil sediments.

VIVIANE SLON (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology):

So the beauty of working with sediment, unlike fossils, is that sediment’ss present at any archaeological site, and there is plenty of it. So really the options for research questions are nearly endless.


Their new technique could help researchers learn where ancient people lived and whether they were Neandertals, modern humans or another hominen group known as Denisovans. And researchers could match groups of humans with artifacts found nearby, and with other animals that lived alongside them. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon