The complex ethics of human history

Readers are advised that this article contains images of ancient human remains. At the end of this century’s first decade, no ancient human genome had been sequenced in full. Now, there are over 6,000 complete genomes in the archives, and more are added to the list every week. Since it became clear that DNA could … Continue reading The complex ethics of human history

Toasting a big week for ancient gastronomy

Blue cheese, beer and wine – it’s the hipster’s smorgasbord, but it turns out humans have been chowing down on these delicacies for a very long time. New research, published today in Current Biology, shows that preserved human poo – otherwise known as coprolites – in an Iron Age salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria contained … Continue reading Toasting a big week for ancient gastronomy

Can we really extract ancient DNA from dinosaurs?

From million-year-old dinosaur remains to ‘resurrecting’ mammoths, stories in the news about ancient DNA make it seem as though Jurassic Park is just around the corner. But ancient DNA is also an important tool for viewing the past. The only problem is that it’s not quite as abundant or easy to use as some think. … Continue reading Can we really extract ancient DNA from dinosaurs?

Ancient DNA rewrites Japanese history

Modern-day Japanese people can trace their ancestry back to three separate genetic groups, according to a study out last week that rewrote our understanding of early Japanese history. While the Japanese archipelago has been occupied for at least 38,000 years, the region underwent rapid transformations in its occupation in the last three millennia, first from … Continue reading Ancient DNA rewrites Japanese history

First ancient human DNA from the gateway between Asia and Australia

When Griffith University archaeologist Adam Brumm heard from local villagers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi about a vast cave used to house local games of badminton, his scientific spidey-senses started to tingle. Brumm, from Griffith’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, specialises in the archaeology of the region known as Wallacea, the cluster of … Continue reading First ancient human DNA from the gateway between Asia and Australia

How a 310-million-year-old brain works

While hard appendages like bone and shell can be preserved as fossils for millions of years, palaeontology’s enduring problem has been a dearth of soft tissues in the fossil record. As a result, there are huge knowledge gaps about the evolution of soft tissues – including internal organs like the brain – among early life. … Continue reading How a 310-million-year-old brain works

5000-year-old remains reveal plague’s genetic secrets

The remains of a 5000-year-old man have been discovered to house the oldest known strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria responsible for bubonic plague, aka the Black Death. “What’s most astonishing is that we can push back the appearance of Y. pestis 2,000 years farther than previously published studies suggested,” says Ben Krause-Kyora, head of … Continue reading 5000-year-old remains reveal plague’s genetic secrets

This adorable mouse was considered extinct for over 100 years — until we found it hiding in plain sight

Emily Roycroft, Australian National University Australia has the world’s worst track record for wiping out mammals, with 34 species declared extinct since European colonisation. Many of these are humble native rodents, who’ve suffered the highest extinction rate of any mammal group. But today, we bring some good news: one rodent species, Gould’s mouse (Pseudomys gouldii), … Continue reading This adorable mouse was considered extinct for over 100 years — until we found it hiding in plain sight

Celebrating a decade of ancient human DNA

Just over a decade ago, a ball of 4000-year-old human hair tangled up in a whalebone comb ignited the first ever reconstruction of the ancient human genome. Since then, our understanding of ancient human DNA has exploded. Despite being discovered in the 1980s, the technology to sequence DNA from the hair wasn’t available until 2012, … Continue reading Celebrating a decade of ancient human DNA

The curious case of the missing ancestor

Researchers have found the DNA, but so far the body is missing. The technology transforming archaeological research and the hunt for Denisovans could redraw the evolutionary map. It’s the biggest “whodunnit” in the mystery of human evolution. Who were the Denisovans? All they left behind were a few ancient fragments of bone and teeth. Human … Continue reading The curious case of the missing ancestor

Bronze Age migrations changed the genomics and culture of ancient Italians

Ancient DNA has told the story of how Bronze Age Italians interacted with people from Eastern Europe. Many ancient humans around Eurasia migrated and mixed with people from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, a steppe-land located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, but until recently, the genetic component of ancient Italian Steppe-related ancestry was unexplored.  … Continue reading Bronze Age migrations changed the genomics and culture of ancient Italians

Neanderthal nuclear DNA unlocks ancient human history

Scientists have extracted Neanderthal nuclear DNA from cave sediments for the first time, greatly improving the scope of ancient DNA research to include whole populations. Ancient DNA preserved in bones and teeth has previously revealed insights into ancient humans like Neanderthals and Denisovans. But since skeletal remains are exceedingly rare, archaeologists have turned to extracting … Continue reading Neanderthal nuclear DNA unlocks ancient human history