Although the first ancient DNA molecules were extracted more than three decades ago, the first ancient nuclear genomes could only be characterized after high-throughput sequencing was invented. Genome-scale data have now been gathered from thousands of ancient archaeological specimens, and the number of ancient biological tissues amenable to genome sequencing is growing steadily. Ancient DNA fragments are typically ultrashort molecules and carry extensive amounts of chemical damage accumulated after death. Their extraction, manipulation and authentication require specific experimental wet-laboratory and dry-laboratory procedures before patterns of genetic variation from past individuals, populations and species can be interpreted. Ancient DNA data help to address an entire array of questions in anthropology, evolutionary biology and the environmental and archaeological sciences. The data have revealed a considerably more dynamic past than previously appreciated and have revolutionized our understanding of many major prehistoric and historic events. This Primer provides an overview of concepts and state-of-the-art methods underlying ancient DNA analysis and illustrates the diversity of resulting applications. The article also addresses some of the ethical challenges associated with the destructive analysis of irreplaceable material, emphasizes the need to fully involve archaeologists and stakeholders as part of the research design and analytical process, and discusses future perspectives.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)