As part of the phase-in of ancient DNA offerings, DNA Consultants announced the addition of name pages and other information tools for Primeval DNA customers as well as a line of new tests expected to come on stream in the near future.
Based on ancient DNA Ancestry Information Markers developed by contemporary scientists, Primeval DNA was made available in a beta version on March 1. It brings to the consumer market some of the first published ancient DNA genomes. These advances in genomics began appearing in 2010 and now number in the hundreds.
Introductory packages from $99 allow consumers to upload their existing raw genomic data from previous testing with most companies which offer personal genome tests. For the first time, people can directly compare the actual nucleotide sequences of their personal genome to as many as seven ancient populations and 181 individual genomes as determined in the genetic and archeological literature.
The first available tests ranged in age from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers of Early Europe to Viking skeletons from Iceland, dating to 870 CE – 1070 CE. Most popular has been the Ancient Israelite Test, which features 18 ancient male and female individuals from the two famous burial sites of Raqefet Cave and Peqi’in in Israel.
Raqefet Cave was discovered in 1956, first excavated in 1970-72 and then again for several seasons from 2004 by Israeli archaeologists from the University of Haifa. A Stanford University study in 2018 announced that a 13,000-year-old brewery discovered near the cave’s entrance was the oldest in the world.
A similar burial complex in the Hilazon Tachtit cave site not far away yielded what scientists in 2008 described as a 12,000-year-old shaman.
Planned for release over the next few months are Mal’ta Boy, Minoans and Mycenaeans, Ötzi the Ice Man, Prehistoric Africans, Templar Knights and Crusaders, Anglo-Saxon Warriors, Kennewick Man, and Amazons.
Beginning last year, Eran Elhaik’s team has been building a paleogenetic knowledge-base for ancient people and cultures. Ancient DNA Hub has emerged as a highly respected, easy-to-use resource for the technically inclined as well as for lay audiences, including students.
The wiki-style site is well maintained and organizes a wealth of information on sites, cultures, individuals, lineages, locations, time periods, terminology and references.
As an example of the unfolding detail now possible to explore in the Primeval DNA series is one of the most striking skeletons from the story of Roman Britain. This skeleton corresponds to DNA Consultants’ Hadrian. It is the name of one of seven individuals you can compare your own genome to in terms of genetic similarity if you select Ancient Britons in Roman Britain.
In the ancient DNA wiki, Hadrian is described, though not named, as follows:
“Genetic analysis has shown that most of the people buried at Driffield Terrace were of Western European origin, apart from one unusual individual. Skeletal analysis showed this man was under 45 years old and he was taller than the average Roman. Genetic analysis showed he had dark hair and brown eyes and carried genetic markers indicating he was probably of Middle Eastern origin. This set him apart from the other samples that had genetic signatures more typical of other Western Europeans. He most likely originated from within an area that is currently in the countries of Palestine, Jordan or Syria and represents a unique example of the extremes of migration within the Roman Empire. He carried an H5 mitochondrial haplogroup, which is common in both Europeans and people from the Middle East, but his Y chromosome was more unusual. He belonged to the Y chromosome J haplogroup, which is most common in the Middle East today and also exists more rarely in Southeastern Europe.”
And what about the names? The company website now has several hundred of them. In time, there will be thousands.
Obviously, most individuals recovered from ancient sites don’t come to light identified by name. Even their language is unknown and has to be inferred, along with their origins, familial kinship and genetic relationship with others in the same burial site. They had names, of course, but they have not been remembered. So the need arises to give them a modern name for the sake of convenience.
We are told that it was graduate students who created the reference names in our series of ancient DNA tests. If that is the case, we must congratulate them. Lucy, with its backstory of the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” playing in the background at the recovery site of a female Australopithecus in 1974, is a much more evocative choice than AL 288-1. By the same token, Kennewick Man (coming soon) is a catchier name than U.S. Army Corps of Engineers No. 97L. And Hadrian is a better moniker than Driffield Terrace Skeleton 20034.
“Where the Past Meets the Future” (company news item, December 13, 2018)
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