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US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Written on: September 16th, 2013 in Archaeology Updates US301

Skeletal Analysis of Burials from the Elkins Site (7NC-G-174)

The unmarked burials were excavated to avoid destruction from the US Route 301 highway project, and the discovery and analysis are being conducted in accordance with state law.  

The human skeletal remains recovered from five burials associated with the Elkins Site are in the process of being analyzed under the supervision of Professor Ashley McKeown, a bioarchaeologist and forensic anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montana. An exciting component of the project is the ancient DNA analysis being conducted by Visiting Professor Meradeth Snow, an anthropological geneticist also at the University of Montana. This portion of the study is well underway, and so far, a small portion of the mitochondrial DNA molecule (which is found in the maternally-inherited mitochondria of a cell) has been successfully amplified for each of the five individuals. We are optimistic that this information in conjunction with more complete results can be used to identify any maternal relationships between the individuals. The positive results prove that DNA is present in the samples and may be used for additional research—such as pinpointing the possible familial relationships between all of the individuals.

Visiting Professor Meradeth Snow processing bone samples for DNA analysis.

Visiting Professor Meradeth Snow processing bone samples for DNA analysis.

The process of extracting and amplifying ancient DNA requires researchers to be almost completely covered from head to foot in order to minimize the chance of contaminating the samples!