Thursday, May 29, 2008

Researchers retrieve authentic Viking DNA from 1,000-year-old skeletons
Although “Viking” literally means “pirate,” recent research has indicated that the Vikings were also traders to the fishmongers of Europe. Stereotypically, these Norsemen are usually pictured wearing a horned helmet but in a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE this week, Jørgen Dissing and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, investigated what went under the helmet; the scientists were able to extract authentic DNA from ancient Viking skeletons, avoiding many of the problems of contamination faced by past researchers.

This is how they avoided contamination:
Wearing protective suits, the researchers removed the teeth from the jaw at the moment the skeletons were unearthed when they had been untouched for 1,000 years. The subsequent laboratory procedures were also carefully controlled in order to avoid contamination.

This will probably end up being far more common at excavations, since DNA analysis is getting a far more prominent role. I can imagine part of the archaeological toolkit at any excavation site will be something like hazmat suits and sealed plastic bags for collecting human remains.

UPDATE: Original paper here.