Meet Lola a 5700 year old Woman from Denmark. She lived on an island in the Baltic Sea around 3,700 B.C. She was a blue-eyed, dark skin and dark hair woman. Her last meal was hazelnuts and mallard duck, she never had milk because of her lactose intolerance.
Wondering how these were all unravelled?
It was 5,700 years ago, when a young Neolithic woman in what is now Denmark chewed on a piece of birch pitch (a modern day type of chewing gum). A study of the birch pitch has uncovered the girl’s entire genome and oral microbiome.
The research team nicknamed the young Neolithic woman “Lola” after Lolland, the island in Denmark on which the 5,700-year-old chewing gum was discovered. This is the first time that an entire human genome was extracted from something other than human bones.
Birch pitch was what Palaeolithic people used as glue as many as 760,000 years ago. It was derived by heating the bark of birch trees, and somewhere along the way they realized they could chew it; as indicated by teeth marks found on ancient remnants of the pitch.
The gum was found at a Stone Age archaeological site, Syltholm. It was preserved in an unspoilt form for years. One of the archaeologist, Theis Jensen explained that ‘Syltholm is completely unique. Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal’.
By extracting DNA from the birch pitch, the researchers learned that it had been chewed by a female genetically closely related to hunter-gatherers from the European mainland, rather than those in central Scandinavia. The team’s analysis revealed that the chewer of the prehistoric gum was female, and likely had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes.
The ancient chewing gum held traces of plant and animal DNA, such as DNA from hazelnuts and duck, which might have been part of Lola’s diet, according to the statement. Scientists also found genes associated with “lactase non-persistence,” meaning Lola likely didn’t digest dairy very well.
Finally, the researchers found DNA from oral microbes in the chewing gum, including DNA that could belong to the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis, otherwise known as “mono” or the “kissing disease.”
What is more?
Hannes Schroeder, a study author and associate professor from the Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen, marvelled;
“Our ancestors lived in a different environment and had a different lifestyle and diet, and it is therefore interesting to find out how this is reflected in their microbiome… It can help us understand how pathogens have evolved and spread over time, and what makes them particularly virulent in a given environment. At the same time, it may help predict how a pathogen will behave in the future, and how it might be contained or eradicated.”
Birch pitch (also called tar), a glue-like substance made by heating birch bark, has been used to fasten stone blades to handles in Europe since at least the Middle Pleistocene.
It was also theorized that birch pitch was chewed to help relieve the pain of a toothache; act as a tooth brush; stave off hunger; or, much like we use modern gum, simply to have something to chew. Birch pitch also contains betulin, which acts like an antiseptic.
The discovery of the Birch pitch is unique and noteworthy because no human remains have ever been recovered at the site in Syltholm, Lolland. This is just the first of its kind; there is hope for more, bringing ancient humans back to life when no other remnants of their lives are left behind.