Last took place the session Metagenomic analysis of ancient human dental calculus and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the Balkans and Italy, from the public lecture series Encounters with our past: Seminars in Prehistory and related disciplines.
On July 23th, Claudio Ottoni from the DANTE laboratory, Sapienza University of Rome, and the Centre of Molecular Anthropology for Ancient DNA studies, University of Rome Tor Vergata, presented his work.
Dental calculus – plaque mineralized on the surfaces of teeth during life – is composed of calcium phosphate salts mixed with the remnants of previously viable microorganisms and a variety of plant and animal tissues. This mineral matrix preserves ancient DNA molecules that may be used to reconstruct oral microbiomes of ancient humans, and may potentially inform on dietary behavior. Recent studies suggested that the transition from foraging to farming subsistence that occurred during the Neolithic changed the human oral microbiome. However, no clear characterization of past oral microbiomes associated with foraging activities has been possible so far due to the limited number of samples analyzed and the lack of complementary multidisciplinary datasets.
In this study, Claudio Ottoni and colleagues, aims at reconstructing the oral microbiome of ancient humans associated with forager lifeways before the advent of the Neolithic in Europe, and track potential dietary sources. They conducted shotgun metagenomics, the untargeted sequencing of all DNA content of a sample, on dental calculus samples of Mesolithic and Early Neolithic humans from the Danube Gorges, in the central Balkans (Southeast Europe). Their work sheds new light on the dynamics characterizing ancient foraging subsistence, and offers new insights into the understating of cultural and biological changes in human evolution associated with the introduction of food-producing economies.