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life in the stone age

Scientists use 'pioneering' new technique to extract DNA from ancient pendant

Scientists have discovered a way to extract DNA from an ancient pendant in a noninvasive fashion, allowing them to reveal the identity of the artifact's original owner.

Top view of the pierced deer tooth.

Top view of the pierced deer tooth discovered from Denisova Cave in southern Siberia

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

"I find these objects made in the deep past extremely fascinating since they allow us to open a small window to travel back and have a glance into these people's lives," remarked Elena Essel, the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature.

The pendant was made out of a pierced deer tooth and was discovered in the Denisova Cave in Siberia. Researchers believe the artifact is between 19,000 and 25,000 years old, dating back to the Stone Age. It reportedly belonged to a woman who was part of a group called the Ancient North Eurasians, but it is unclear whether the woman wore the pendant or just made it, CNN notes. "It's almost like you open a time travel machine," Essel said of the process in a news release. "With each sample we are able to learn a bit more and make more inferences about how these people lived."

Previously, in order to extract the DNA from an object like this, scientists would have had to drill into the pendant to extract bone powder. This "pioneering" new method, however, avoids any direct damage, CNN says. Scientists submerged the artifact in a sodium phosphate buffer solution and slowly increased the temperature, which then allowed for the DNA to be released into the solution. Essel described the process as a "laboratory washing machine without the movement," wherein it was "the wash water that was exciting for us," she told CNN.

"With this new technique, we can finally start talking about that and investigating the roles of individuals according to their biological sex or their genetic identity and family relationships," Marie Soressi, who also worked on the study, told New Scientist