DNA recovery from ancient human remains has revolutionized our ability to reconstruct the genetic landscape of the past. Ancient DNA research has benefited from the identification of skeletal elements, such as the cochlear part of the osseous inner ear, that provides optimal contexts for DNA preservation; however, the rich genetic information obtained from the cochlea must be counterbalanced against the loss of morphological information caused by its sampling. Motivated by similarities in developmental processes and histological properties between the cochlea and auditory ossicles, we evaluate the ossicles as an alternative source of ancient DNA. We show that ossicles perform comparably to the cochlea in terms of DNA recovery, finding no substantial reduction in data quantity and minimal differences in data quality across preservation conditions. Ossicles can be sampled from intact skulls or disarticulated petrous bones without damage to surrounding bone, and we argue that they should be used when available to reduce damage to human remains. Our results identify another optimal skeletal element for ancient DNA analysis and add to a growing toolkit of sampling methods that help to better preserve skeletal remains for future research while maximizing the likelihood that ancient DNA analysis will produce useable results.
© 2020 Sirak et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
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