Molecular paleontology, i.e., the recovery of DNA from ancient human, animal, and plant remains is an innovative research field that has received progressively more attention from the scientific community since the 1980s. In the last decade, the field was punctuated by claims which aroused great interest but eventually turned out to be fakes - the most famous being the sequence of dinosaur DNA later shown to be of human origin. At present, the discipline is characterized by some certainties and many doubts. We know, for example, that we have reasonable chances to recover authentic DNA from a mammoth carcass, while our chances are negligible (or nonexistent) in the case of a dynastic mummy from Egypt. On the other hand, though we are developing convincing models of DNA decay in bone, we are not yet able to predict whether a certain paleontological or archeological site will yield material amenable to DNA analysis. This article reviews some of the most important and promising investigations using molecular paleontology approaches, such as studies on the conservation of DNA in human bone, the quest for ancient DNA in permafrost-frozen fauna, the Tyrolean iceman, and the Neandertals.
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