Nav: Home

New technique provides accurate dating of ancient skeletons

June 17, 2018

Milan, Italy: Interest in the origins of human populations and their migration routes has increased greatly in recent years. A critical aspect of tracing migration events is dating them. However, the radiocarbon techniques*, that are commonly used to date and analyse DNA from ancient skeletons can be inaccurate and not always possible to apply. Inspired by the Geographic Population Structure model that can track mutations in DNA that are associated with geography, researchers have developed a new analytic method, the Time Population Structure (TPS), that uses mutations to predict time in order to date the ancient DNA.

Dr Umberto Esposito, a postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Dr Eran Elhaik, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK, will tell the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics today (Monday) that TPS can calculate the mixtures of DNA deriving from different time periods to estimate its definitive age. "This introduces a completely new approach to dating. At this point, in its embryonic state, TPS has already shown that its results are very similar to those obtained with traditional radiocarbon dating. We found that the average difference between our age predictions on samples that existed up to 45,000 years ago, and those given by radiocarbon dating, was 800 years. This study adds a powerful instrument to the growing toolkit of paleogeneticists that can contribute to our understanding of ancient cultures, most of which are currently known from archaeology and ancient literature," says Dr Esposito.

Radiocarbon technology requires certain levels of radiocarbon on the skeleton, and this is not always available. In addition, it is a delicate procedure that can yield very different dates if done incorrectly. The new technique provides results similar to those obtained by radiocarbon dating, but using a completely new DNA-based approach that can complement radiocarbon dating or be used when radiocarbon dating is unreliable.

« This permits us to open a powerful window on our past. The study of genetic data allows us to uncover long-lasting questions about migrations and population mixing in the past. In this context, dating ancient skeletons is of key importance for obtaining reliable and accurate results, » says Dr Esposito. « Through this work, together with other projects that we are working on in the lab, we will be able to achieve a better understanding of the historical developments that took place from the beginning of the Neolithic period, with the introduction of farming practices in Europe, and throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. These periods include some of the most crucial events involving the population movements and replacements that shaped our world. »

The technique is also expected to be valuable for genealogy. « When applying our ancient DNA dating technology to modern genomes, we have seen that some populations have more ancient genomes than others, and this can be helpful in establishing individual origins » says Dr Esposito.

Health research will benefit too. Since the study of genetic disorders is closely tied up with questions of ancestry and population stratification, being able to analyse the homogeneity of populations is of vital importance to epidemiologists.

The researchers are currently compiling a larger dataset to increase the geographical/time coverage of their model and improve its accuracy. « Given the rapid increase in the number of ancient skeletons with published DNA, we believe that our technique will be useful to develop alternative hypotheses,» Dr Esposito will say.

Chair of the ESHG conference, Professor Joris Veltman, Director of the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University in Newcastle, United Kingdom, said: "This study shows how DNA derived from ancient skeletons can be used to more accurately determine the age of the skeleton than traditional radiocarbon tracing methods. This is another example of the power of modern genomics technologies to assist in helping us understand where we come from, how the journeys of our forefathers have helped shape our current genome and how this now impacts our current abilities and weaknesses, including risks of disease."
-end-
*Radiocarbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object by analysing the amount of radioactive carbon dioxide it contains. When an animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and measuring the amount that remains provides a method of determining when it died.

Abstract no: C16.4 Time informative markers to date ancient skeletons

European Society of Human Genetics

Related Dna Articles:

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.
Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.
DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.
A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.
From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.
Self-healing DNA nanostructures
DNA assembled into nanostructures such as tubes and origami-inspired shapes could someday find applications ranging from DNA computers to nanomedicine.
DNA design that anyone can do
Researchers at MIT and Arizona State University have designed a computer program that allows users to translate any free-form drawing into a two-dimensional, nanoscale structure made of DNA.
DNA find
A Queensland University of Technology-led collaboration with University of Adelaide reveals that Australia's pint-sized banded hare-wallaby is the closest living relative of the giant short-faced kangaroos which roamed the continent for millions of years, but died out about 40,000 years ago.
DNA structure impacts rate and accuracy of DNA synthesis
DNA sequences with the potential to form unusual conformations, which are frequently associated with cancer and neurological diseases, can in fact slow down or speed up the DNA synthesis process and cause more or fewer sequencing errors.
Changes in mitochondrial DNA control how nuclear DNA mutations are expressed in cardiomyopathy
Differences in the DNA within the mitochondria, the energy-producing structures within cells, can determine the severity and progression of heart disease caused by a nuclear DNA mutation.
More DNA News and DNA Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.