Archaeological Collagen Fingerprinting in the Neotropics; Protein Survival in 6000 Year Old Dwarf Deer Remains from Pedro González Island, Pearl Islands, Panama

  • Michael BuckleyEmail author
  • Richard G. Cooke
  • María Fernanda Martínez
  • Fernando Bustamante
  • Máximo Jiménez
  • Alexandra Lara
  • Juan Guillermo Martín


Archaeological faunal remains from the humid tropics have long been known to suffer from poor preservation which hinders biomolecular approaches to objective species identification and phylogenetic analysis using DNA. However, a new technique of collagen analysis by soft-ionization mass spectrometry offers a means to access such molecular information from the tropics that are typically regions of greatest worldwide biodiversity. This work explores the application of collagen analyses to remains of a dwarf deer of uncertain ancestry discovered in a ~6000 year old shell-bearing midden on Pedro González Island (Panama). The sub-fossil deer’s tiny size, the extreme cultural modification of >2400 specimens, and the rarity of complete bones and antlers prevented objective identification below Family level. Collagen fingerprinting analyses reveal that both the Pedro González island archaeological deer and an extant small deer on San José Island 8 km away, are closely related but do not have a close affinity with the Central American red brocket deer (Mazama temama Kerr 1792). Using these methods, their closest affinity appears to be with a group of cervids that comprises the North and Central American white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman 1780) and populations of the Amazonian brown brocket deer (M. nemorivaga Cuvier 1817).


Ancient proteins Brocket deer Collagen fingerprinting Island dwarfing Mazama Panama Pearl Islands Pedro González island Preceramic Species identification 



The Pearl Island project (2007–2010) was supported by funds from Panama’s Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENACYT), the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s education programs. Field logistics were coordinated by Reynaldo Tapia and Conrado Tapia. Juan J. Amado, then of the Pearl Island Development Company, and INGEMAR (Panama), generously provided funds for travel, subsistence, archaeology and student participation on Pedro González Island in 2009 and 2010. Test excavations at Playa Don Bernardo benefitted greatly from the assistance of Clara Arango, Eugenia Mellado, Marlene Klages, Yessi Ortiz, Ninel Pleitez, and Aureliano Valencia. Laboratory analyses by MB were supported by funding from the NERC and the Royal Society and carried out in The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences Biomolecular Analysis Core Research Facility as well as the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. Special thanks are due to several members of the Pedro González community who assisted in the excavations. This research would not have been possible without Mazama samples graciously provided by the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, Villa de Leyva, Colombia, thanks to the courtesy of Carlos Jaramillo and Claudia Alejandra Uribe Medina. Lastly, thanks are due also de Raiza and Roxana Segundo for assistance with images.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Buckley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Richard G. Cooke
    • 2
  • María Fernanda Martínez
    • 2
  • Fernando Bustamante
    • 3
  • Máximo Jiménez
    • 2
  • Alexandra Lara
    • 2
  • Juan Guillermo Martín
    • 4
  1. 1.Faculty of Life SciencesManchester Institute of Biotechnology, University of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama
  3. 3.Universidad de AntioquiaMedellínColombia
  4. 4.Universidad del NorteBarranquillaColombia

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