September 07, 2006

DNA is preserved in ancient parchments

Journal of Archaeological Science (Article in Press)

Ancient DNA and the genetic signature of ancient Greek manuscripts

N. Poulakakis, A. Tselikas, I. Bitsakis, M. Mylonas, and P. Lymberakis


Determination of the species origin of historic objects is one of the common tasks of ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis. DNA recovered from archaeological and palaeontological remains allows going back in time and revealing the genetic signature of several human tools. Comparisons of this signature with DNA sequence from recent animals (wild and domestic goats) from several Mediterranean regions are expected to allow us to identify a geographical origin for the biological material used to produce the Greek parchment manuscripts. Here, we have realised an experiment based on which it is possible to recover DNA from ancient parchment fragments (three Greek parchment manuscripts of relatively recent age: 13th to 16th century AD). The analysis of the three Greek manuscripts has shown that most signature documents have goat-related sequences (Capra spp.). As demonstrated, DNA of animals whose skins furnished the parchment pages of ancient and medieval books may survive in that parchment, enabling not only to determine the species of the animal from which the skin had been taken, but moreover, it might even be possible to reconstitute the history of the herds from which they originated.


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