196 — Ancient DNA Reveals Late Pleistocene Existence of Ostriches in Indian Sub-Continent

Jain et al (10.1371/journal.pone.0164823)

Read on 04 March 2018
#ancient-DNA  #ratites  #radiocarbon-dating  #eggs  #fossil  #paleontology  #India  #Pleistocene  #CLSM  #confocal-laser  #archaeology  #jewelry  #birds  #avian  #paleogenetics  #sequencing  #ostrich 

Fossilized eggshells found in India were believed to belong to prehistoric ostriches (25,000 years old). These shells were fashioned into beads by what we assume were early modern humans (based upon what we know about the timing of dispersal from Africa). Using confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), the researchers determined where in the shells ancient DNA was most likely to be preserved, and they used a single gram of shell per day to run PCR on the potential DNA samples.

The aDNA was indeed found in at least one of these samples (and one sequence is available on GenBank). The DNA was linked most closely to Struthio camelus (ostriches).

This work tells us a lot about not only the humans that created the beads, but also about the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Prior to this study, it was believed that ostriches were extinct in India by the late Pleistocene. But this DNA analysis suggests that they were in fact still present by ~25kya.

This is also the first time DNA has been found well-preserved in such an old sample from an environment as dynamic in temperature, humidity, and air pressure as India.

I am curious — say, perhaps ostriches were extinct in India by this time — if it’s possible that the manmade beads that the samples were derived from might have been transported substantial distances by the humans that created them.