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US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Written on: August 14th, 2014 in Archaeology Updates US301

Osteological and Ancient DNA Analyses of Burials from the Elkins Site (7NC-G-174) Completed

Five burials (A, B, C, D and G) were excavated at the Elkins Site (7NC-G-174) in late September and early October of 2012 by Hunter Research, Inc. The osteological and ancient DNA analyses of the four adults and one infant have been completed by skeletal biologists and an anthropological geneticist at the University of Montana.

Of the four adults (Burials B, C, D and G), two were male and two were female. Ancient DNA analysis of the amelogenin gene indicates that the 2- to 5-month-old infant (Burial A) was male. These results are exciting as sex of this infant could not have been estimated from the skeletal remains. The table below presents an overview of the human skeletal remains from this site.

Elkins Burials

Results of the mitochondrial DNA analysis (which traces maternal genetic lineages) classifies all five individuals as having European maternal ancestry. Interestingly neither of the adult females were the mother of the young infant, but the elderly male from Burial D shares the same mitochondrial DNA mutations suggesting that they are maternally related.

All of the adults show evidence for rigorous physical activity, and the older individuals suffered from osteoarthritis to varying degrees. The elderly male in Burial D was particularly affected by degenerative changes to his skeleton with fusion of multiple vertebrae in his neck and lower back due to extensive bony growths. The anterior joint of his pelvis, the pubic symphysis, was also completely fused and evidence for degenerative joint disease was found across his body. He had also suffered from a broken nose, a broken rib and a broken foot bone during life!

Dental health among these individuals was not particularly good. All adults had lost teeth during life and many of the teeth that remained had small to large cavities. Both adult males had pipe stem facets/grooves in the teeth of both males from clenching a pipe stem in the mouth. Chipping of the chewing edge of the canines was observed on the female of Burial G, suggesting she held hard objects such as straight pins between her teeth.


Burial C teeth with closeup of pipe stem groove (right).

Burial C teeth with closeup of pipe stem groove (right).

Burial D with close up of pipe stem grooves (right).

Burial D with close up of pipe stem grooves (right).