Lay summary authored by Lisa Briggs. Read the full paper here: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.71
The methods used to study ancient DNA have progressed rapidly over the last few decades. As more submerged archaeological sites are discovered and explored, it is possible to apply these new methods and technological advancements in DNA research to recently discovered archaeological material from maritime and underwater sites. Environmental DNA, in particular, has been shown to be particularly important in characterising the human activities that might have taken place at ancient sites, both on land and under the sea. Given these developments, and the heightened awareness of how important it is to characterise the environmental samples taken from archaeological sites, it is necessary to reconsider previously published studies conducted on archaeological material from submerged sites.
This paper explores the pitfalls, promise and future directions of ancient DNA research on archaeological material recovered from submerged sites. First, a selection of previously published studies is assessed in light of the new methods and technological advancements that have now been made available to archaeological scientists. Past research conducted on human and animal bones, waterlogged plant remains, and archaeological ceramics is considered. Finding ways to authenticate the DNA recovered as ancient is of paramount importance. Next, the promise that DNA analysis holds for artefacts and environmental samples recovered from underwater sites is explored. Submerged prehistoric settlement sites, ancient shipwrecks, and harbour sites hold particular promise for the application of new methods designed to maximise the recovery of ancient DNA. Finally, the future directions of ancient DNA research on archaeological material from underwater sites are considered. Understanding what DNA is naturally present in the seafloor sediment that accumulates over archaeological sites, what DNA is naturally present in seawater, and how DNA breaks down in the marine environment will greatly enhance our ability to assign an archaeological meaning to DNA discovered on ancient underwater sites.
Full paper: Briggs, L., 2020. Ancient DNA Research in Maritime and Underwater Archaeology: Pitfalls, Promise, and Future Directions. Open Quaternary, 6(1), p.3. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.71