Teeth from mammoths buried in the Siberian permafrost for more than a million years have yielded the oldest DNA ever sequenced, according to a study published on Wednesday, shining a genetic spotlight into the deep past.
Researchers said the three specimens, one roughly 800,000 years old and two more than a million years old, provide important insights into the giant Ice Age mammals, including the ancient heritage of the woolly mammoth.
“This DNA is incredibly old. The samples are a thousand times older than Viking remains, and even predate the existence of humans and Neanderthals”, said Love Dalen, a professor of Evolutionary Genetics at the Centre for Paleogenetics in Stockholm and the senior author of the study published in the journal, Nature.
The mammoths were originally discovered in the 1970s in Siberia and held at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
Researchers first dated the specimens geologically, with comparisons to other species like small rodents, known to be unique to particular time periods and found in the same sedimentary layers.
This suggested that two of the mammals were ancient steppe mammoths more than a million years old.
The youngest of the trio is one of the earliest woolly mammoths yet found.