Nondestructive sampling of human skeletal remains yields ancient nuclear and mitochondrial DNA

Deborah A. Bolnick, Holly M. Bonine, Jaime Mata-Míguez, Brian M. Kemp, Meradeth H. Snow, Steven A. Leblanc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Museum curators and living communities are sometimes reluctant to permit ancient DNA (aDNA) studies of human skeletal remains because the extraction of aDNA usually requires the destruction of at least some skeletal material. Whether these views stem from a desire to conserve precious materials or an objection to destroying ancestral remains, they limit the potential of aDNA research. To help address concerns about destructive analysis and to minimize damage to valuable specimens, we describe a nondestructive method for extracting DNA from ancient human remains. This method can be used with both teeth and bone, but it preserves the structural integrity of teeth much more effectively than that of bone. Using this method, we demonstrate that it is possible to extract both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from human remains dating between 300 BC and 1600 AD. Importantly, the method does not expose the remains to hazardous chemicals, allowing them to be safely returned to curators, custodians, and/or owners of the samples. We successfully amplified mitochondrial DNA from 90% of the individuals tested, and we were able to analyze 1-9 nuclear loci in 70% of individuals. We also show that repeated nondestructive extractions from the same tooth can yield amplifiable mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. The high success rate of this method and its ability to yield DNA from samples spanning a wide geographic and temporal range without destroying the structural integrity of the sampled material may make possible the genetic study of skeletal collections that are not available for destructive analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-300
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • ancient DNA
  • autosomal STR genotyping
  • mtDNA
  • nondestructive DNA extraction


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