Oldest Scandinavian Human DNA Found in Ancient Chewing Gum

Excavation of the site in the 1990's. (Image: Per Persson / Stockholm University)
Excavation of the site in the 1990's. (Image: Per Persson / Stockholm University)

The first humans who settled in Scandinavia more than 10,000 years ago left their DNA behind in ancient chewing gums, which are masticated lumps made from birch bark pitch. This is shown in a new study conducted at Stockholm University and published in Communications Biology.

There are few human bones of this age, close to 10 000 years old, in Scandinavia, and not all of them have preserved enough DNA for archaeogenetic studies. In fact, the DNA from these newly examined chewing gums is the oldest human DNA sequenced from this area so far.

The DNA derived from three individuals, two females and one male, creates an exciting link between material culture and human genetics. Ancient chewing gums are as of now an alternative source for human DNA and possibly a good proxy for human bones in archaeogenetic studies.

One of the analyzed chewing gums, (Image: Natalija Kashuba)

One of the analyzed chewing gums, (Image: Natalija Kashuba)

The investigated pieces come from Huseby-Klev, an early Mesolithic hunter-fisher site on the Swedish west coast. The site’s excavation was done in the early 1990s, but at this time it was not possible to analyze ancient human DNA at all, let alone from non-human tissue.

The masticates were made out of birch bark tar and used as glue in tool production and other types of technology during the Stone Age. Natalija Kashuba, who was affiliated to The Museum of Cultural History in Oslo when she performed the experiments in cooperation with Stockholm University, said:

Exciting link between material culture and human genetics

The results show that, genetically, the individuals whose DNA was found share close genetic affinity to other hunter-gatherers in Sweden and to early Mesolithic populations from Ice Age Europe. However, the tools produced at the site were a part of lithic technology brought to Scandinavia from the East European Plain, modern-day Russia.

This scenario of a culture and genetic influx into Scandinavia from two routes was proposed in earlier studies, and these ancient chewing gums provide an exciting link directly between the tools and materials used and human genetics. Emrah Kırdök from Stockholm University conducted the computational analyses of the DNA, saying:

Per Persson at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, said:

Anders Götherström, at the Archaeological Research Laboratory at Stockholm University where the work was conducted, said:

Provided by: University College London [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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