Scrapheap Challenge: A novel bulk-bone metabarcoding method to investigate ancient DNA in faunal assemblages
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Highly fragmented and morphologically indistinct fossil bone is common in archaeological and paleontological deposits but unfortunately it is of little use in compiling faunal assemblages. The development of a cost-effective methodology to taxonomically identify bulk bone is therefore a key challenge. Here, an ancient DNA methodology using high-throughput sequencing is developed to survey and analyse thousands of archaeological bones from southwest Australia. Fossils were collectively ground together depending on which of fifteen stratigraphical layers they were excavated from. By generating fifteen synthetic blends of bulk bone powder, each corresponding to a chronologically distinct layer, samples could be collectively analysed in an efficient manner. A diverse range of taxa, including endemic, extirpated and hitherto unrecorded taxa, dating back to c.46,000 years BP was characterized. The method is a novel, cost-effective use for unidentifiable bone fragments and a powerful molecular tool for surveying fossils that otherwise end up on the taxonomic “scrapheap”.
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