Ancient DNA and the Polymerase Chain Reaction

  • Mary E. Malainey
Part of the Manuals in Archaeological Method, Theory and Technique book series (MATT)


The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in the mid-1980s by K. B. Mullis, an American biochemist, stimulated the rapid growth of a new avenue of anthropological inquiry. Using this process, miniscule amounts of genetic material from ancient materials can be studied. Targeted segments of preserved deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) are copied and re-copied until there is enough present for further analysis. The area selected for amplification depends upon the specific research question. The majority of anthropological applications involving DNA analysis fall under the realm of physical anthropology. Both modern and ancient human DNA are used to determine the status of genetic traits with restricted distributions in order to address questions of kinship, population movement, the occurrence of disease, gender distributions, and evolutionary lineage. Reviews focusing primarily on the analysis of ancient DNA (or aDNA) from human remains recovered from archaeological contexts appear in Kaestle and Horsburgh (2002) and Jones (2003); Mulligan (2006) provides a critical review of aDNA extracted from the remains of humans, other animals and plants, as well as aDNA preserved in archaeological residues. Descriptions of the procedures and issues surrounding the analysis of aDNA are provided in Brown (2001), Cano (2000), Kaestle and Horsburgh (2002), Mulligan (2006), and O’Rourke et al. (2000). Further information about the amplification and analysis of DNA using PCR, DNA cloning, and DNA sequencing can be found in biochemistry textbooks such as Lehninger et al. (1993) and Nelson and Cox (2008).


Cloning Vector Complementary Strand Polymerase Chain Reaction Inhibitor aDNA Analysis American Biochemist 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary E. Malainey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyBrandon UniversityBrandonCanada

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