Ancient DNA (aDNA) provides an archive of human evolution of unprecedented fidelity. Paleo-metagenomic approaches promise to shed light on not only human evolution but also the co-evolution of the human-associated microbiome including pathogens, and potentially track Out of Africa and later human dispersals, as well as major human technological and cultural transitions. However, research in this area is greatly hampered by current limitations of skeletal tissues as source of recoverable aDNA.

The project aims to

  1. study the interactions of aDNA with and protection by diverse mineral phases,
  2. recover authentic aDNA from these sources with a focus on the reconstruction of Pleistocene human dispersals and evolution,
  3. reconstruct various past anthromes, in particular the indoor environments in relation to human biological, cultural and technological evolution,
  4. investigate the co-evolution of microbial and human genomes in relation to calibrated absolute time points,
  5. focus on minerals, sediments, and bones from archaeological sites spanning from 2 million years ago to early medieval times from a range of aDNA-mineral associations including commensals, sediments and brecciated sediments, cave wall varnish, ochre and other metal oxide precipitates, stalagmites, flow stones, phosphate minerals, but also human coprolites and sedimentary artifacts such as construction materials and combustion features.

This cross-disciplinary collaboration harnesses innovative approaches by focusing on paleogenomic/metagenomic analyses of an unprecedented range of archaeological/environmental sources in order to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the immobilization and protection of aDNA molecules by DNA-mineral associations and to potentially extend the age and scope of existing aDNA genomic research. The platform comprises of scientists from the university and collaborators with expertise in the fields of archaeology, geoarchaeology/geosciences, paleogenomics, metagenomics/bioinformatics, biochemistry, geochemistry and mineralogy.