The retrieval of ancient human DNA sequences

Am J Hum Genet. 1996 Aug;59(2):368-76.


DNA was extracted from approximately 600-year-old human remains found at an archaeological site in the southwestern United States, and mtDNA fragments were amplified by PCR. When these fragments were sequenced directly, multiple sequences seemed to be present. From three representative individuals, DNA fragments of different lengths were quantified and short overlapping amplification products cloned. When amplifications started from <40 molecules, clones contained several different sequences. In contrast, when they were initiated by a few thousand molecules, unambiguous and reproducible results were achieved. These results show that more experimental work than is often applied is necessary to ensure that DNA sequences amplified from ancient human remains are authentic. In particular, quantitation of the numbers of amplifiable molecules is a useful tool to determine the role of contaminating contemporary molecules and PCR errors in amplifications from ancient DNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology / methods*
  • Arizona
  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mummies*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Mitochondrial