‘Time Capsule’ Of Life: Ancient DNA Recovered From 2,900-Year-Old Brick


OXFORD, United Kingdom —  A novel clay brick, originating from the traditional metropolis of Kalhu, accommodates plant DNA from nearly 3,000 years in the past. At present situated on the Nationwide Museum of Denmark, the brick bears a cuneiform inscription – an historic writing system – indicating that it was “The property of the palace of Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria.” This allowed researchers up to now the brick precisely to between 879 BCE to 869 BCE.

The brick comes from the palace of the Neo-Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II. This historic web site, acknowledged in the present day because the North-West palace in Nimrud in modern-day northern Iraq, started its building round 879 BCE.

In 2020, throughout a digitalization challenge on the museum, researchers delved into the brick’s internal core, the place there was minimal danger of DNA contamination. By adapting strategies beforehand used for porous supplies like bone, the staff extracted DNA. Their evaluation recognized 34 plant groups, with essentially the most ample being Brassicaceae (cabbage) and Ericaceae (heather). Different DNA sequences linked to Betulaceae (birch), Lauraceae (laurels), Selineae (umbellifiers), and Triticeae (cultivated grasses) households.

Dr. Sophie Lund Rasmussen at the excavation site
Dr. Sophie Lund Rasmussen on the excavation web site. (Credit score: Sophie Lund Rasmussen)

Collaborating with assyriologists, archaeologists, and geneticists, College of Oxford researchers in contrast their findings to fashionable botanical information from Iraq and historic Assyrian plant descriptions. The brick, primarily fabricated from mud from the local Tigris River combined with chaff, straw, or dung, was molded and inscribed with cuneiform. It was sun-dried and never burned, serving to protect the genetic materials inside.

“We have been completely thrilled to find that historic DNA, successfully protected against contamination inside a mass of clay, can efficiently be extracted from a 2,900-year-old clay brick,” says research first creator Dr. Sophie Lund Rasmussen, from the Wildlife Conservation Analysis Unit within the Division of Biology at Oxford, in a university release. “This analysis challenge is an ideal instance of the significance of interdisciplinary collaboration in science, as the varied experience included on this research offered a holistic strategy to the investigation of this materials and the outcomes it yielded.”

The research’s implications transcend this one single brick. Such analysis may be utilized to different archaeological clay sources globally, figuring out previous wildlife. On condition that clay supplies are generally present in archaeological sites worldwide and might usually be exactly dated, they current distinctive alternatives.

Whereas this research targeted on plant DNA, all forms of taxa, together with vertebrates and invertebrates, may doubtlessly be recognized. Recognizing historic biodiversity can present invaluable insights into present biodiversity losses and supply a deeper understanding of historic civilizations.

“Due to the inscription on the brick, we are able to allocate the clay to a comparatively particular time period in a specific area, which implies the brick serves as a biodiversity time-capsule of data concerning a single web site and its environment,” says research first creator Dr. Troels Arbøll, a junior analysis fellow at College of Asian and Center Japanese Research at Oxford. “On this case, it offers researchers with a novel entry to the traditional Assyrians.”

The research is revealed within the journal Scientific Reports.

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