TSU scientist is a co-author of the largest study of ancient human DNA

25 February 2020

An international team of scientists has conducted the largest ever study of ancient human DNA, now published in Science. TSU anthropologist Marina Rykun is one of the co-authors: she provided 50 samples from the TSU anthropology cabinet for the research.

The coordinator of the project was David Reich, an American geneticist at Harvard University. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and geneticists from around the world analyzed the genomes of 524 ancient people who inhabited various areas from the Mesolithic (about 12,000 years ago) to the Iron Age (about 2,000 years ago). Researchers compared the results with previously sequenced genomes and linked to existing archaeological, linguistic, and historical information. As a result, the scientists put forward hypotheses about the origin and distribution of Indo-European languages and their speakers in South and Central Asia, about the formation of South Asian populations, and about who was the founder of the Indus River Valley civilization (3,300-1,300 BC), also known as the 

- When a request is made for any topic, the authors do not know what materials we have, and have little idea of what the situation was like in a particular region. It’s impossible to know, and therefore local scientists select samples for the tasks, - said Marina Rykun. – Currently, 5,860 skulls from the oldest and late burial grounds of Northern Eurasia are stored in the TSU anthropology cabinet. It is not just a storage place but a center for the scientific processing of materials, and therefore, for all available craniological and osteological series, preliminary determinations of sex and age have been carried out.

The earliest anthropological materials of the TSU anthropology cabinet date back to the Neolithic period (6,000 – 4,000 BC). They come from the southern part of Western Siberia (Ust-Isha, Itkul, and Kostenkova Izbushka). Among them are skulls from the cemeteries of Ust-Isha and Itkul from the Upper Priobye (Biysk area).

In addition to skulls, TSU has a repository of postcranial skeletons (all parts of the skeleton except the skull). According to the morphological features of the skeletal system, one can talk about the degree of load on certain parts of the human body and, accordingly, about the type of human activity, for example, whether the person was a hunter, fisherman, or gatherer. By the size of the long bones, one can predict what the person’s height and weight were, and how much the body was adapted to a particular environmental environment.

The paleoanthropological materials of the TSU anthropology cabinet are in third place in the country after the collections of the Museum of Anthropology of Moscow State University and the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera). This helps TSU to research various areas of anthropology (paleoanthropology, paleoecology, paleopathology, etc.) both independently and in large international interdisciplinary projects.