In order to determine whether the visual degradation of skeletal remains is indicative of their DNA quality, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) quality and quantity were examined for a collection of human remains that lacked major confounders such as burial age, interment style, and gross environmental conditions, while showing a broad range of skeletal degradation.
The results indicate that neither skeletal nor individual bone appearance are reliable indicators of subsequent mtDNA typing outcome; however, the type of bone assayed was related to the mtDNA typing outcome. DNA amplification was observed in 23 of 29 femora/fibula (79.3 percent); 21 of 33 ribs (63.6 percent); and 9 of 25 pelves (36 percent). It is clear from this study that skeletal material and DNA do not degrade under the same mechanisms or in a parallel manner. The findings suggest that microhabitats have a strong influence on bone weathering, but this does not necessarily correlate with DNA degradation. The study tested mtDNA for a large set of human skeletal material from the Voegtly Cemetery in northern Pittsburgh, PA. The cemetery was used between 1833 and 1861, after which all remains are reported to have been transferred to a new cemetery atop nearby Troy Hill. The church grounds were in a highway right-of-way, and when highway construction began in 1987, human skeletal remains were unearthed. A full-scale archeological excavation was conducted in that year, revealing approximately 700 burials. The remains were recorded, removed, packaged, and transferred to the Smithsonian Institution for anthropological analysis. The Voegtly remains, which do not harbor many of the confounding variables noted in this paper, presented an ideal sample set for examining the relationship between human skeletal weathering and the DNA found in the bones. 2 tables, 1 figure, and 25 references
Date Published: July 1, 2009