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The results, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, highlight the potential of chewed birch pitch as a source of ancient human and microbial DNA, which can be used to shed light on the population histories, health statuses and subsistence strategies of ancient people. “It’s fascinating to be able to do that from this small object.”. These findings are encouraging for researchers focusing on ancient peoples from this part of the world. In fact, ancient chewing gums, made of birch pitch and various other natural substances, have stuck around for thousands of years. The gum had traces of DNA from hazelnut (Corylus avellana) and mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), which the woman may have recently eaten and which could have been staples in a hunter-gatherer’s diet. "So each genome contributes to this bigger story, and as we get more and more information, we're able to reconstruct so much more about the human past than we ever could before.". The bacterial populations that colonize a person’s teeth are very different from those found in their saliva or on their tongue, and so a sample pulled from chewing gum “is probably a mixture of all these different types of oral microbiome,” Weyrich says. According to Schroeder and his colleagues, the Syltholm woman’s genome indicates she was not related to communities of farmers that did live in Denmark around the same time. Scientists say that for the first time, they've managed to extract an entire ancient human genome from anything other than human bones or teeth. She does not have any traces of ancestry from a group that had a very different lifestyle — farmers. Although no human remains have been recovered at the dig site, the DNA on the birch tar revealed what the woman looked like, what she ate, what bacteria and viruses she carried with her, where her people could have come from and whether they may have begun to adopt farming. The cultural tradition of chewing gum seems to have developed through a convergent evolution process, as traces of this habit have arisen separately in many of the early civilizations. At the time, “next-generation sequencing was starting to revolutionize ancient DNA studies,” he says. Ancient DNA. “For studies of human health and environment, this type of material is just priceless,” she says. One example of that is the 5,700-year-old gum that was discovered at an archeological site in Denmark. Toward the end of the Stone Age, in a small fishing village in southern Denmark, a dark-skinned woman with brown  hair and piercing blue eyes chewed on a sticky piece of hardened birch tar. Theis Jensen. She was descended from a genetic group archaeologists refer to as Western hunter-gatherers, who began settling in Scandinavia via a southern route as early as 11,700 years ago. According to the researchers, it is a new untapped source of ancient DNA. He says the woman's ancestors were hunter-gatherers from continental Europe. Farming spread to Denmark relatively late—arriving around the time the Syltholm woman lived—but once there, it probably caught on quickly. In any case, when she discarded the tar, it was sealed away under layers of sand and silt for some 5,700 years until a team of archaeologists found it. One example of that is the 5,700-year-old gum that was discovered at an archeological site in Denmark. They found traces of the Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause infectious mononucleosis. Discover world-changing science. Theis Jensen/Nature Communications hide caption. The dark little blob would be easy to overlook at an archaeological site. Other oral bacteria species the team found in the gum can cause periodontal disease. Behind them, the woman and her kin built weirs to trap fish that they skewered with bone-tipped spears. "It gives me inspiration to go out and start looking for more of these unusual contexts in which we might find interesting information," Warinner says. They also extracted remnants of what could have been the woman's last meal — duck and hazelnuts. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in extracting a complete human genome from a thousands-of-years old “chewing gum”. Scientific American is part of Springer Nature, which owns or has commercial relations with thousands of scientific publications (many of them can be found at, New Scientist-Candidates for U.S. Congress Fared Worse Than Expected in 2020, U.S. Exits Paris Climate Accord after Trump Stalls Global Warming Action for Four Years, Vicious Woodpecker Battles Draw an Avian Audience. The woman may have worked the tar until it was pliable enough to repair a piece of pottery or a polished flint tool—birch tar was a common Stone Age adhesive. 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