A DNA-sequencing method reliably reveals the sex of ancient human remains.

A team led by Pontus Skoglund at Uppsala University in Sweden analysed high-throughput-sequencing data from 14 modern humans and from the remains of 16 individuals up to 70,000 years old. By comparing the number of sequences that matched the X or Y chromosome, the team could identify males and females. This approach worked even when the sequence data were deliberately 'contaminated' by adding present-day DNA sequences of the opposite sex.


The technique determined the sex of 14 out of 16 ancient individuals studied, including several Neanderthals and a 5,300-year-old mummy (pictured). Two Neolithic individuals who had been classified as females on the basis of their morphology were identified as males.

The method could be useful for determining the sex of juvenile or highly degraded specimens, the researchers say.

J. Archaeol. Sci. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2013.07.004 (2013)