In DepthArchaeology

Molecular ‘barcodes’ reveal lost whale hunts

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Science  13 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6398, pp. 119
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6398.119

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According to myth, the Maori people arrived in New Zealand riding the back of a whale; today, whales figure prominently in Maori art and stories. Now, it appears that Maori ancestors may also have systematically hunted the animals. A new technique for identifying species from short snippets of DNA in bone scraps has enabled researchers to identify the remains of five whale species in early New Zealand settlements, including smaller or slow-moving species, the likely targets for hunters. And on the opposite side of the world, a team used a simpler barcode method to suggest that the Romans hunted whales, too, potentially pushing back the first known commercial whaling industry by about 1000 years. By revealing species from once-meaningless bone fragments, barcodes are shedding light on the impact ancient cultures had on biodiversity.