Stone Tools (ARROWS) Project


Stone tools (lithics) are highly prevalent archaeological artifacts discoverable in both recent and ancient contexts. Unlike other classes of archaeological materials, lithics are not subject to natural decomposition processes and are therefore ideal tools for the investigation of ancient peoples. With High Throughput DNA Sequencing, researchers have turned toward ancient DNA (aDNA) and microbial DNA to reveal insights from lithic remains. Residues and microcracks on stone tools may be important sources of information, with successful extraction revealing ancient DNA and proteins. However, a missing piece in current literature is thorough discussion of contamination. Contamination can stem from multiple sources, including post-excavation processing and exposure to animals or people post-deposition. Accurately evaluating all contamination factors is almost impossible, especially if the excavation of the tool was not executed with DNA preservation in mind. The ARROWS project is designed to test some of the more prominent contamination variables by using samples where the manufacturing process was controlled and documented. By creating control and test samples for three variables: tool user/maker exposure, tool exposure to a target tissue, and environmental exposure, we will be able to predict what DNA will be present on what samples and authenticate these predictions with DNA analysis, something we are not able to do with excavated artifacts. The data generated through this controlled analysis will provide archeologists and forensic scientists with valuable information on the sources of contamination in ancient DNA recovery and help verify the hypothesis that the recovery of aDNA is possible from archaeological lithic materials.

Project Lead

Sam Muller

For more information, contact Sam.