Danish scientists extract human DNA from Stone Age ‘chewing gum’

Credit: Arek Socha/Pixabay

Credit: Arek Socha/Pixabay

Scientists in Denmark managed to extract a complete human DNA sample from a piece of birch patch that is more than 5,700 years old, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study, published in Nature Communications, details the birch pitch, a sticky substance similar to chewing gum, and gives a portrait of a woman who may have chewed it, according to Scientific American.

According to the study in Nature Communications, DNA showed that the woman, nicknamed Lola, probably was dark-skinned, with brown hair and blue eyes. The village in southern Denmark where the DNA was found, called Syltholm by modern archaeologists, was located near a coastal lagoon protected from the Baltic Sea by sandy barrier islands, according to the study.

"It is very exciting to be able to extract a full human genome from anything other than bone,'' Hannes Schroeder, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen, who led the research, told The New York Times. "This sample had lots of microbial DNA preserved as well."

Researchers said ancient humans likely chewed the pitch, a black-brown substance made by heating birch bark, to make it pliable, Nature Communications reported. The pitch was used as an adhesive as far back as the Middle Pleistocene era, the study reported.

Birch pitch is relatively resistant to bacteria, viruses and water, which would have protected the DNA from decay, Science News reported.

Lola, however, had been eating duck and hazelnuts before she started chewing on birch pitch, based on additional DNA found in the birch sample.

"This is a snapshot of a real person in real time," Natalija Kashuba, an archaeologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, told the Times. "It's as close as we'll ever come to standing face to face with an individual from the Stone Age of Scandinavia."

Researchers discovered the gum last year from the site of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link tunnel, which links the island of Lolland in Denmark to the German island of Fehrman, the newspaper reported.

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