Ancient chewing gums and DNA

Mesolithic chewing gums, it is finally properly published. Call me old fashion, but I like the quality control provided by peer review, to me that is proper publishing. And it is nice to move our chewing gums to such media now. This time we are publishing in Communications Biology, one of the Open Access journals in the Nature family. And this time it was Natalya Kashuba who was pushing the study through the full process to publication. The idea to use old chewing gums for aDNA studies was initially Mikael Manninens and Per Perssons, and Emrah Kırdök did the computational work. And naturally all of us authors provided in different ways. But it was Natalya who made it happen.

There are two parts to this story. The first is the methodological one, ancient mastics, that is waste from glue making, seems to be a source for ancient human DNA. And the second one is a follow up on what we saw in Günther et al. 2018, while the DNA share some history with western hunter-gatherers (we can only be sure that it contains an element of the HG genetics from eastern Sweden which is western hunter-gatherers, we don’t know yet if there is HG genetics from the Scandinavian west, which is eastern hunter-gatherers, too or not), the lithic industry is of the eastern type used on the Scandinavian west coast. Thus, the remains we analysed from Huseby-Klev shows that there must have been some kind of contact between the two colonizing meta-groups some time at a fairly early stage. Chewing gums are excellent, MacGyver knew it, and a Scandinavian hunter-gatherer knew it 10.000 years before he did.

Mastic chewed by a Scandinavian hunter-gatherer almost 10.000 years ago, photo by Natalya Kashuba

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