Scientists at the Max Planck Institute have successfully isolated prehistoric human DNA from loose soil samples from Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia. This is the first map showing when hominids used the cave in the past 300,000 years.
Earlier, a bone of a thirteen-year-old girl was found in the cave, which contains DNA from a Neanderthal father as well as genetic material from a mother Denisova. So a hybrid, or as Leyden archaeologist Wil Roebroeks puts it: “In fact, we are all garbage cans”.
Researcher Elena Zavala from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig is leading the operation. Extracting human DNA from the soil is very difficult. Using the most modern machines and techniques, we have succeeded in isolating DNA from small pieces of soil. The soil contains microscopic fragments of urine, poo and bone particles.
“We actually have some kind of magnet that captures the bits of DNA we want in the material soup,” Zavala explains.
Teaspoons of soil
The technology of harvesting human DNA from soil samples has a great future. Next week, a team of archaeologists will visit a cave in Dordogne, France, to trace how modern humans came to be in Europe. Was this a move to our regions or did new groups join early modern humans all the time? Since you don’t need skeletons to demonstrate human presence, just a teaspoon of soil, the expectations are high.
Either way, scientists will be busy for decades analyzing data from Denisova Cave. Archaeologist Wil Roebroek: “My profession is much more fun than forty years ago.
Read more here: Pleistocene sedimentary DNA from Denisova cave.