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From a Clay Pipe to Sierra Leone

Researchers were able to isolate DNA from a 200-year-old clay pipe found at a former slave site in Maryland and use it to trace the pipe smoker's ancestry to what is now Sierra Leone, the Washington Post reports.

As Julie Schablitsky, the chief archaeologist from Maryland Transportation Department's State Highway Administration and her colleagues report in their the Journal of Archaeological Science paper, they isolated DNA from three clay pipe stems for sequencing, though only one harbored enough DNA for further analysis. The slave quarters where the pipe was found were discovered in 2015 during an excavation of an old plantation house, the Post adds.

Through their analysis, the researchers found that the pipe belonged to a woman with a mitochondrial haplogroup that likely arose in central or East Africa, and is present among modern-day African Americans. Using the Admixture algorithm, they found that the woman had mostly African ancestry and a principal component analysis indicated that her sample clustered with those from the Mende of Sierra Leone.

"To be able to get DNA from an object like this is quite exciting," co-author Hannes Schroeder from the University of Copenhagen tells the Post. "Also it's exciting for descendant communities. ...Through this technology, they're able to make a connection not only to the site but potentially back to Africa."

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