10 Ancient DNA Samples that Bring the Past to Life – Genetic Education
10 ancient DNA samples.

10 Ancient DNA Samples that Bring the Past to Life

“The ancient DNA sample we have is obtained from the Siberian permafrost of a mammoth, dated 1.2 million years old. But do you know what other oldest DNA sample we have? Here is an article on 10 ancient DNA samples we have.” 

The information revealed by ancient DNA is crucial to understanding past life– their genetic structure and diversity, migration pattern, population interactions and environmental challenges. 

However, the major obstacle in such types of studies is the oldest nature of DNA that has degraded and contaminated over time. Still, the technology that we have is capable enough to decode the history and age of specimens and bring the past to life. 

Here I’m discussing 10 ancient DNA samples that we have with examples and references. 

Disclaimer: The content presented herein has been compiled from reputable, peer-reviewed sources and is presented in an easy-to-understand manner for better comprehension. A comprehensive list of sources is provided after the article for reference.

10 Ancient DNA Samples:

Mammoth from Siberian Permafrost

In 2006, Poinar et al. successfully isolated ancient DNA from a mammoth specimen preserved in the Siberian permafrost. They have sequences 28 million base pair sequences obtained from the sample. The sample is 1.2 million years old.

The portion of DNA obtained is a partial sequence of mitochondrial DNA, an extracellular and maternally inherited DNA present independently from the genome. The present finding proved to be a pathbreaking moment in paleogenomics.

The present study provided valuable information such as genetic diversity, evolutionary history, population dynamics and adaptability against the environment of mammoths that lived during the Pleistocene epoch.

Horse from the Yukon

In 2013, scientists from the University of Copenhagen extracted ancient horse DNA from the permafrost of Yukon, Canada. The DNA was isolated from the frozen bone remnants, aged ~70,000 years old. 

They have isolated the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA and sequenced the tiny piece. The valuable information obtained from this ancient DNA string helps study the genetic diversity and population structure of the horses. Later on, the study becomes a foundation for understanding the domestication of horses. 

Ancient Human from Sima de los Huesos

In 2016, Meyer et al. successfully isolated the ancient human DNA from the Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones) cave site in Atapuerca, Spain. The DNA obtained was nuclear DNA and aged 4,30,000 years old.  

However, among 28 Hominin samples, one sample containing mitochondrial DNA showed a strong relationship with Denisova mitochondrial DNA. The present finding also contributed to understanding the population relationship and dynamics between early hominins and their relation with Neandarthal and Denisovas. 

Neanderthal from Denisova Cave

In 2010, Reich et al. successfully extracted ancient Neanderthal DNA from Denisova Cave, Siberia, Russia aged 1,20,000 years. The nuclear DNA obtained from the well-preserved finger bone helps scientists understand the interaction between archaic hominins and modern humans. 

With 1.9-fold genomic coverage, a total of 82,227,320 DNA sequences were sequenced in the present study. In addition to the present study, mitochondrial DNA extracted from the tooth sample found in the same cave showed higher sequence similarity with the finger bone sample. 

The present finding become a significant milestone in paleogenomics. 

Ancient Humans from Kostenki 

In 2014, Seguin-Orlando et al. successfully extracted nuclear DNA from 14 ancient DNA remains obtained from Kostenki, Russia. The present DNA sample is approximately 38,700 to 36,200 years old, as per the research paper. 

The present finding explains the genetic structure of early European populations and their migration and interaction with other ancient human groups.  

Ancient Human from Ust’-Ishim 

In 2014, Fu et al. successfully isolated ancient DNA from Ust’-Ishim, located in western Siberia, Russia. The approximate age of the DNA is 45,000 years. The DNA was isolated from the nuclear remains and provided crucial information on the genetic relationships between different human groups during the Paleolithic era.

Woolly Rhino from Siberian Permafrost

In 2011, Boeskorov et al. collected an ancient specimen of a woolly rhino from the Koyma River. The ancient remains are approximately 39,140 years old. The present finding sheds light on the dietary habits of megafauna during the Pleistocene epoch.

Cave bear

In 2005, Noonan et al. successfully extracted ancient DNA from 40,000 old cave bears from the skeletal remains. 26,861 bp mitochondrial DNA obtained from the present specimen was sequenced successfully. However, the majority of the DNA obtained was contaminated by various microbes. 

Cave Hyenas

Recently in 2021, Hu et al. successfully isolated and sequenced the DNA obtained from bones and teeth samples of cave hyenas. The sample is approximately 40,000 years old. The present study also focuses on the genetic diversity and phylogenetic relation of Cave Hyenas. 

Neanderthal from Croatia

In 2008, the complete mitochondrial genome of the Neanderthal DNA sample was obtained from the sample collected from a cave in Croatia. The sample is dated around 38,000 years old. 

Svante Pääbo won the Nobel Prize in Psychology and Medicine for the present finding in 2022. The present finding provided valuable information regarding the genetic diversity, population dynamics and migration events as well as the relationship between Neanderthals with other ancient human species. 


DNA sample Age Reference
Mammoth from Siberian Permafrost1.2 million years oldPoinar et al. (2006)
Horse from the Yukon70,000 years oldScientists from the University of Copenhagen
Ancient Human from Sima de los Huesos4,30,000 years oldMayers et al. (2016)
Neanderthal from Denisova Cave1,20,000 years oldReich et al. (20100
Ancient Humans from Kostenki 38,700 to 36,200 years oldSeguin-Orlando et al. (2014)
Ancient Human from Ust’-Ishim 45,000 years oldFu et al. (2014)
Woolly Rhino from Siberian Permafrost39,140 years oldBoeskorov et al. (2011)
Cave bear40,000 years oldNoonan et al. (2005)
Cave Hyenas40,000 years oldHu et al. (2021)
Neanderthal from Croatia38,000 years old Green et al. (2008)

Wrapping up: 

Collecting and studying ancient DNA is a difficult task. Various environmental factors, over the years, damaged and degraded the major portion of the nucleic acid. Thus, scientists lack important links in and between the genome of ancient DNA samples. 

Despite that, high throughput and new-age sequencing techniques are powerful enough to accurately sequence the DNA obtained. Furthermore, techniques like ancIBD also allow accurate analysis of ancient DNA remains.

I hope you like this present amazing information on the ancient DNA. Do share the article and bookmark the page. 


Poinar, H. N. et al. (2006). “Metagenomics to Paleogenomics: Large-Scale Sequencing of Mammoth DNA.” Science, 311(5759), 392-394.

A 70,000-year-old horse gets its genome sequenced. Science Daily.   

Meyer, M., Arsuaga, JL., de Filippo, C. et al. Nuclear DNA sequences from the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos hominins. Nature 531, 504–507 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17405.

Reich, D., Green, R., Kircher, M. et al. Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature 468, 1053–1060 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09710.

Seguin-Orlando A, Korneliussen TS, Sikora M, Malaspinas AS, Manica A, Moltke I, Albrechtsen A, Ko A, Margaryan A, Moiseyev V, Goebel T, Westaway M, Lambert D, Khartanovich V, Wall JD, Nigst PR, Foley RA, Lahr MM, Nielsen R, Orlando L, Willerslev E. Paleogenomics. Genomic structure in Europeans dating back at least 36,200 years. Science. 2014 Nov 28;346(6213):1113-8. doi: 10.1126/science.aaa0114. Epub 2014 Nov 6. PMID: 25378462.

Fu, Q., Li, H., Moorjani, P. et al. Genome sequence of a 45,000-year-old modern human from western Siberia. Nature 514, 445–449 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13810.

Boeskorov, Gennady G., et al. “Woolly Rhino Discovery in the Lower Kolyma River.” Quaternary Science Reviews, vol. 30, no. 17-18, Aug. 2011, pp. 2262–2272, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2011.02.010. Accessed 11 Jan. 2021.

Noonan JP, Hofreiter M, Smith D, Priest JR, Rohland N, Rabeder G, Krause J, Detter JC, Pääbo S, Rubin EM. Genomic sequencing of Pleistocene cave bears. Science. 2005 Jul 22;309(5734):597-9. doi: 10.1126/science.1113485. Epub 2005 Jun 2. PMID: 15933159.

Hu J, Westbury MV, Yuan J, Zhang Z, Chen S, Xiao B, Hou X, Ji H, Lai X, Hofreiter M, Sheng G. Ancient mitochondrial genomes from Chinese cave hyenas provide insights into the evolutionary history of the genus Crocuta. Proc Biol Sci. 2021 Jan 27;288(1943):20202934. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.2934.

Green RE, Malaspinas AS, Krause J, Briggs AW, Johnson PL, Uhler C, Meyer M, Good JM, Maricic T, Stenzel U, Prüfer K, Siebauer M, Burbano HA, Ronan M, Rothberg JM, Egholm M, Rudan P, Brajković D, Kućan Z, Gusić I, Wikström M, Laakkonen L, Kelso J, Slatkin M, Pääbo S. A complete Neandertal mitochondrial genome sequence determined by high-throughput sequencing. Cell. 2008 Aug 8;134(3):416-26. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2008.06.021. PMID: 18692465; PMCID: PMC2602844.  

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