A reconstruction of the woman’s face ©TOM BJÖRKLUND

This is the face of a woman who lived in Scandinavia 6,000 years ago. Thanks to the tooth marks she left in ancient “chewing gum”, scientists have been able to obtain her DNA, which they used to decipher her genetic code.

Lolland in the south of Denmark © Google maps

The woman (nicknamed Lola) lived in Syltholm on the island of Lolland, the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark. She had dark skin, dark brown hair and blue eyes and was genetically closer to hunter-gatherers from mainland Europe than people living in central Scandinavia at the time. Researchers believe that she was probably descended from settlers who moved north from western Europe after the glaciers retreated.

This is the first time an entire ancient human genome has been extracted from anything other than human bone. Dr Hannes Schroeder from the University of Copenhagen said that the “chewing gum” – actually tar from a tree – is a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains.

The DNA was stuck in a black-brown lump of birch pitch, produced by heating birch bark, which was used at that time to glue together stone tools. The presence of tooth marks suggest the substance was chewed, perhaps to make it more malleable or possibly to relieve toothache or other ailments. Other traces of DNA were identified as hazelnut and mallard duck, showing that these were part of the diet at the time.

The research was published in December 2019 in the journal Nature Communications.

Source             Helen Briggs   BBC News website

Text                 Alun Harvey

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