Gum won’t really sit in your stomach for years, but it can preserve human DNA for millennia.
Researchers have uncovered genetic material encased within 9500-year-old tarlike wads known as birch bark pitch, which Scandinavian hunter-gatherers chewed to make a glue for weapons and tools. Among other things, the DNA suggests these toolmakers were both male and female, and some may have been as young as 5 years old.
“It’s exciting … that you could get DNA from something people chewed thousands of years ago,” says Lisa Matisoo-Smith, a molecular anthropologist at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. “I think there are lots of ways people will take this going forward.”
In the late 1980s, a team of Swedish archaeologists excavated a pit within an archaeological site called Huseby Klev in western Sweden. Here, they discovered more than 100 coal black, thumbprint-size lumps riddled with distinct toothmarks. Chemical analysis revealed these were pieces of pitch, an early adhesive derived from plant resin. Researchers already knew ancient toolmakers heated pitch distilled from birch trees over a fire to soften it, chewed bits of it into a pliable state, then used the sticky wad to fasten sharpened stones to wooden or bony shafts to make weapons and tools.
Image credit: Science Mag
Kim Ngan Do
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