While we have talked a lot about ancient DNA (aDNA) in ‘Science Notes’, it has mainly been in the context of decoding ancient human genomes. We have not really delved into the other applications of the methodology, including the detection of ancient pathogens. However, this is a quickly emerging area that could have a huge impact on how we are able to study health and disease in the past, and deserves some unpicking.
It is well known that the Industrial revolution led to a staggering shift in the global nitrogen cycle – a key process that supports life by circulating nutrients between the land, atmosphere, and oceans – but human-linked impacts on the environment in earlier periods of history are far less well understood. A paper recently published by an international team of researchers led by the University of British Columbia and the Institute of Technology, Sligo, is set to change that, however, showing that humans may have had a significant impact on the nitrogen cycle in Ireland during the Bronze Age.
A recent study, conducted by researchers from the Centre for Human Bioarchaeology at the Museum of London and Durham University, has looked into the diet of Roman London. Children were of particular interest to the team, as they may have had a different diet to that of adults due to their lower social status in Roman culture.
In the recent hot weather, the trees that line many of our urban streets offer welcome shade – but when these leafy avenues were first introduced to Britain they were highly controversial. We trace the progress and pitfalls of this movement from its 19th-century roots to the present day. Greenery was also a key feature […]
Last month, we reported in ‘News’ on the recent LiDAR work done to accurately measure the length of the Antonine Wall. Here, we highlight further groundbreaking research being carried out to uncover the history of this magnificent monument. Dr Louisa Campbell from the University of Glasgow has used X-ray and laser technology to analyse the remnants of the Wall as part of the Historic Environment Scotland-funded project, Paints and Pigments in the Past.
This month we are doing something a little different, exploring a wider theme rather than a specific technique. A recent public-interest piece in Nature – published in response to their research paper about the Bell Beaker culture (for more on this research, see CA 338) – discusses the ‘sometimes straining’ relationship between archaeologists and geneticists.
The nearly 10,000-year-old skeleton who came to be known as ‘Cheddar Man’ was found in 1903, in Gough’s Cave at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. In more recent times, his remains have been on display in the Human Origins Hall at the Natural History Museum. Despite his fame, until recently little was known about this individual. Now a team from UCL and the Natural History Museum has successfully sequenced his DNA for the first time, revealing a wealth of details about his physical appearance – with dramatic implications for our understanding of how inhabitants of Mesolithic Britain looked.
Ancient DNA analysis of an Anglo-Saxon woman from East Anglia, afflicted with leprosy, has indicated that there could be a link between the spread of the disease and squirrels. The discovery adds to the already comparatively high number of medieval leprosy cases from the region.
In the first ‘Science Notes’ (CA 333), we discussed the identification of a possible female Viking warrior using ancient DNA analysis. This is a guaranteed way to confirm sex in human remains, but can be costly, time-consuming, and destructive to the bone, meaning that it is not feasible when a project needs to determine the sex of a large number of skeletons.
The Mesolithic–Neolithic transition in Britain is a widely debated topic, particularly with regard to the role migration played in spreading Neolithic farming practices from the Continent to Britain. Now researchers from Durham University are using isotope analysis to examine the childhood origins of early Neolithic Britons, in an initiative aiming to address this question.