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Ancient Plant Sequences Found in Clay Brick From Assyrian Castle

In a paper appearing in Scientific Reports, an international team led by investigators at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Oxford presents findings from an ancient DNA analysis focused on plant sequences found in a 2,900-year-old clay brick from the North-West palace in present-day Iraq — once home to a Neo-Assyrian king named Ashurnasirpal II in a city then known as Kalhu. Using a combination of targeted amplicon sequencing and shotgun metagenomic sequencing, the investigators assessed DNA isolated from the clay brick at the National Museum of Denmark, flagging sequences spanning some 34 plant taxonomy groups ranging from cabbage and heather plants to cultivated grasses, laurels, and birch trees in the brick, which dates to 879 BCE to 869 BCE based on archaeological clues and an inscription. "With this research we have made the discovery that ancient DNA, effectively protected from contamination inside a mass of clay, can successfully be extracted from a 2,900-year-old clay brick," the authors write, adding that "the scientific potential for this approach is substantial for several academic fields such as ancient genomics, Assyriology, and Near Eastern archaeology, climate, and biodiversity in historical contexts, and it will lead to a deeper understanding of ancient and lost civilizations."