DNA from a ~20,000-Year-Old Pendant Offers Genetic Picture of Its Owner

The elk tooth is small and ancient, with a crude hole bored through the top. It was likely worn as a pendant, but worn by whom? Was the owner male or female? Where did they come from? Did the pendant indicate their social status, mark a significant accomplishment, was it a gift, or was it worn as an expression of individuality?

Artifacts such as personal ornaments and tools play a pivotal role in helping us understand the migration, behavior and cultures of ancient peoples. To date, this information has stopped short of providing insight into things like the biological sex or genetic ancestry of the individuals who may have worn or used these items, and thus limited our ability to accurately characterize societal roles and behaviors. Recent advances in DNA techniques and technologies, and one little pendant, might be changing that.

gloved hands hold an artifact pendant
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Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Museum’s Life for Me

Ahoy all you pirate lovers out there! Have you ever wanted to visit a real pirate shipwreck? Well this could be your lucky day! Today, Indiana University, IU researcher and archeologist Charles Beeker and the government of the Dominican Republic are dedicating the wreck of the Quedagh Merchant as a “Living Museum of the Sea”. Now in case you missed all the hoopla three years ago when she was discovered, the Quedagh Merchant is the Armenian merchant ship that was captured in 1698 by the infamous 17th century pirate/privateer Captain William Kidd. It is, in fact, the ship that could be said to have been his undoing. Continue reading “Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Museum’s Life for Me”