Scientists Extract Complete Human Genome From 5,700-Year-Old “Chewing Gum” – Here’s What They Found

Artistic Reconstruction of Lola

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in extracting a complete ancient human genome from a 5,700-year-old birch pitch. The image is an artistic reconstruction of the woman who chewed the birch pitch and has been named Lola. Credit: Illustration by Tom Björklund

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in extracting a complete human genome from a thousands-of-years-old “chewing gum”. According to the researchers, it is a new untapped source of ancient DNA

During excavations on Lolland, archaeologists have found a 5,700-year-old type of “chewing gum” made from birch pitch. In a new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen succeeded in extracting a complete ancient human genome from the pitch.

It is the first time that an entire ancient human genome has been extracted from anything other than human bones. The new research results were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications on December 17, 2019.

5,700-Year-Old Birch Pitch

During excavations on Lolland, Denmark, archaeologists have found a 5,700-year-old birch pitch. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in extracting a complete ancient human genome from the pitch seen in the photo. Credit: Theis Jensen

‘It is amazing to have gotten a complete ancient human genome from anything other than bone,’’ says Associate Professor Hannes Schroeder from the Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen, who led the research.

‘What is more, we also retrieved DNA from oral microbes and several important human pathogens, which makes this a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains,’ Hannes Schroeder adds.

Based on the ancient human genome, the researchers could tell that the birch pitch was chewed by a female. She was genetically more closely related to hunter-gatherers from the mainland Europe than to those who lived in central Scandinavia at the time. They also found that she probably had dark skin, dark hair, and blue eyes.

Chewing gum, all-purpose glue or medicine

  • Birch pitch is a black-brown substance that is produced by heating birch bark. It was commonly used in prehistory for hafting stone tools as an all-purpose glue. The earliest known use of birch pitch dates back to the Palaeolithic.
  • Pieces of birch pitch are often found with tooth imprints suggesting that they were chewed. As the pitch solidifies on cooling, it has been suggested that it was chewed to make it malleable again before using it for hafting etc.
  • Other uses for birch pitch have also been suggested. For example, one theory suggests that birch pitch could have been used to relieve toothache or other ailments as it is mildly antiseptic. Other theories suggest, people may have used it as a kind of prehistoric tooth brush, to suppress hunger, or just for fun as a chewing gum.

Sealed in mud

The birch pitch was found during archaeological excavations at Syltholm, east of Rødbyhavn in southern Denmark. The excavations are being carried out by the Museum Lolland-Falster in connection with the construction of the Fehmarn tunnel. 

‘Syltholm is completely unique. Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal,’ says Theis Jensen, Postdoc at the Globe Institute, who worked on the study for his Ph.D. and also participated in the excavations at Syltholm. 

‘It is the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark and the archaeological finds suggest that the people who occupied the site were heavily exploiting wild resources well into the Neolithic, which is the period when farming and domesticated animals were first introduced into southern Scandinavia,’ Theis Jensen adds.  

This is reflected in the DNA results, as the researchers also identified traces of plant and animal DNA in the pitch – specifically hazelnuts and duck – which may have been part of the individual’s diet.

Bacterial evolution

In addition, the researchers succeeded in extracting DNA from several oral microbiotas from the pitch, including many commensal species and opportunistic pathogens. 

‘The preservation is incredibly good, and we managed to extract many different bacterial species that are characteristic of an oral microbiome. 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,’ says Hannes Schroeder.

The researchers also found DNA that could be assigned to Epstein-Barr Virus, which is known to cause infectious mononucleosis or glandular fever. According to Hannes Schroeder, ancient “chewing gums” bear great potential in researching the composition of our ancestral microbiome and the evolution of important human pathogens.’

‘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,’ says Hannes Schroeder.

The study was supported by the Villum Foundation and the EU’s research program Horizon 2020 through the Marie Curie Actions.

Reference: “A 5700 year-old human genome and oral microbiome from chewed birch pitch” by Theis Z. T. Jensen, Jonas Niemann, Katrine Højholt Iversen, Anna K. Fotakis, Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Åshild J. Vågene, Mikkel Winther Pedersen, Mikkel-Holger S. Sinding, Martin R. Ellegaard, Morten E. Allentoft, Liam T. Lanigan, Alberto J. Taurozzi, Sofie Holtsmark Nielsen, Michael W. Dee, Martin N. Mortensen, Mads C. Christensen, Søren A. Sørensen, Matthew J. Collins, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Martin Sikora, Simon Rasmussen and Hannes Schroeder, 17 December 2019, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-13549-9

75 Comments on "Scientists Extract Complete Human Genome From 5,700-Year-Old “Chewing Gum” – Here’s What They Found"

  1. Daniel Alamanda phillips | December 18, 2019 at 4:46 am | Reply

    So we have found our Super-grand Mother.

  2. wow the amount of things we can learn from the smallest things

  3. this is craaaaazy

  4. Ericka & Earl Laporte | December 18, 2019 at 7:31 am | Reply

    I want to thank you folks for your time on your endless work that not only helps me but also other ‘ misplaced Scandinavians’ on where we and others come from. Thank you

  5. this discovery is phenomenal! It could be a doorway to unlimited discoveries of how our bodies REALLY work and the possibilities for cures of all disease are now on the horizon!

  6. So, if it looks like humanity is going to go extinct, we can basically re-clone our population by scraping the underside of high-school desks…

  7. Amazing! A 5,700-year-old teenager who stared straight into the camera without scowling and showing disrespect for the person who took her gum!

  8. Gary W VanOpdorp | December 18, 2019 at 10:42 am | Reply

    L O L A Lola la-la-la-la Lola

  9. Would not be surprised if the human population split in the evolutionary stream, so that warlike tendencies disappear (especially after the atomic bomb and other nuclear weapons) and more peaceful humans endured in evolutionary time – like, millions of years. God told us not to mess with the center of things. Bad dinos like T. Rex were also sent to Hell.

    • Unfortunately, humans have seemingly become more war like since the advent of the bomb. Until the T-Rex went to hell, you had a great post.

  10. Chewing a gum 5, 000 years ago!!!! Ok !? Is it a gum or other thing from their body ?

    • Kamal, the term chewing gum was used in parentheses throughout the article, because that is what to the modern eyes it most replicates. The actual substance is ‘birch pitch,’ which was chewed on regularly by members of this community. The article acknowledges scientists are not certain why stone age peoples chewed birch pitch.

  11. This is why I collect my used gum and throw it in the fireplace.

  12. This is such BS!! If anyone believes this you are an idiot!

    • Such a limited mind, disallows any place knowledge can be found. Expand your knowledge horizon and many possibilities become available.

      • This is why we have the modern world of investigative science today, rather than others that just want to recite a religious prayer.
        Yet you see those same people still here in the comments today, quoting fairy tales out of a book from a thousand years ago.
        Research this and see Carl Sagan’s last interview with Charlie Rose, why many people still today in our world just want to do what makes them feel good instead of exercising real scientific methods of investigation.

    • Can you explain why you believe it is B.S.? And please don’t say: ‘it just is? ‘It can’t be true’ or ‘anyone who believes you can extract DNA from Birch Pitch is dumb’ because that is not a legitimate argument. Thank you.

  13. The scientists, while not dumb, could not understand why she walked like a woman and talked like a man.

  14. It turns out Fruit Stripe lost all it’s flavor in 30 seconds back then, too.

  15. This is why we have the modern world of investigative science today, rather than others that just want to recite a religious prayer.

  16. Fake News! This is ridiculous. This is typical click bait. Scientist cannot be this stupid surely.

    • You can deny it, but the truth is that it’s 100% factual. Just because you don’t believe in genetics and science doesn’t mean it’s fake. Open your mind to more things and over time you will see the bigger picture.

  17. Yeah , such a BS article .. running with their diversity agenda on full speed .. so the color of skin is brown too ? LoL

  18. Wonderful! Ignorance is at least remedied, stupidity? We all know that answer! Is it Bulls#!t because you IQ is ,let me guess 79-80? Do you honestly believe you and your child(man created Eve/incest) and yourselfand along with a voice in the sky for questionable guidance, fathered humanity?! Of course you do, human cattle is relentlessly predictable

  19. It is appearing that the ancient people of Europe were essentially black. However, their presence has almost been erased by the presence of inbreeding. As well as Neanderthal human hybridization.

  20. She does not look Scandinavian to me. Wonder if the scientists were trying to be politically correct to please the new migrants.

    • See Indigenous People of Northern Europe; Laplanders, or differently named, The Sami. Many have a dark complexion, some do not.

      • Perhaps dark hair but not dark complexion. Eskimos have dark hair and dark eyes but fair skin.

        • Eskimos came from the Mongoloid race…not comparable. The first European races would have dark skin because early human species came from warm climates and spread to colder climates.

          • That might be true, but there’s no reason to allow the current second massive migration from the middle East and Africa to Europe or the warmer climates as you say

          • We all came from Africa.
            Go visit Sterkfontein caves in S.Africa and you cannot fail to be moved inexplicably.I did.

  21. Abletounderstand | December 18, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Reply

    So surprised the inane remarks came from a Joe, John, Mark & Henry. Actually, I cannot figure how they found and understood the article, perhaps a detention assignment.

  22. The people who find this information unbelievable crack me up. Humanity was once what we describe as black people today. Eyes were dark. Science already knows through DNA analysis, when blue eyes began appearing due to a mutation. The melanin in our skin decreased over time because humanity was migrating from the part of the planet that is bombarded by UV rays more than anywhere else, to, in this case, the far northern ranges where UV rays are at their lowest point. Data, which we find and utilize with ever increasing accuracy and quantity, reveal a diaspora, and evolutionary arc which is validated over and over again, and is clearly understandable to the average person with an open mind. Unless, I suppose, you want to believe in magic, or alien intervention. If that is the case, your arguments belong in comic books, not here.

    • So what you’re saying is, all the new dark-skinned migrants will look like blond-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavians in 5,700 years. So nothing to worry about because in 5,700 years the crime wave in Scandinavian cities will stop. The Swedes in Malmo will be happy to hear that.

  23. So does that mean we can discredit the man John Curtis who claims to make the first piece of gum back in 1840s?? Because…

  24. I wonder if her DNA is similar to the man from La Braña, León, Spain who was determined to have had darker skin and hair and blue eyes and had the same DNA as other Homo Sapiens in northern Europe

  25. First of all the comment section is a bit disappointing. It’s not necessary for the secular atheist religion to attack the monotheistic faiths that adopted polytheistic practices for their own in the 4th century CE. Faith is a major part of both belief systems. Unless anyone was there when everything came about and can verify with the scientific method what happens to our concienceness when we die then we are fundamentally operating on faith that what we believe is correct. Secondly the article is making some pretty big assumptions about the genetic material. Sure, some things can be deciphered but the time period is guess work. This young woman could simply be the off spring of a captive brought back and a Nordic father. After all the genetic information is using mitochondrial DNA. With no actual body all the rest is supposition. Nonetheless what can be uncovered is fascinating and is adding another piece to a rapidly changing understanding of our ancient and prehistoric past.

  26. This is very cool but won’t lead to the utopia dreamed of by leftists and the science dilettante.

  27. Umm…im pretty sure that’s just an ancient petrified turd…. it looks like a little piece of s#!t I mean really what will they think of next how do they even know what this is if its 5000 years old no f@#king way a piece of gum would last that long no way that’s just f@#king crazy man it’s impossible

  28. So they found a piece of gum somewhere in a scandinavian dig, dated it at about 5700years old, and they figured she looked asian. Yeah right, i believe you.

  29. How do they know she is 5,700 years old, and isn’t transgender?

  30. The world today needs great people like you and your group more so in the world of science and discovery, i believe through the tireless endeavors and urge to discover even what seems problematic to human race like HIV/AIDS cure Wi’ll become history we thank u so much

  31. This discovery suspects her having had dark skin and black hair, it’s 5700 years ago before Christ, should we assume that its true the early man right from Adam and Eva through the ages where dark skinned and had black hair just like Africans as its always said? Should we say then white man colour is just due to evolution over time?

  32. First, I guess no one noticed it wasn’t actual gum, it was birch pitch (derived from the dry distillation of the bark of the birch tree, about 125000 to 75000 year old practice). Additionally, this information is also available through the Smithsonian and National Geographic, address they not viable sources of information?? The final point is directed at those that question because of how old the films is said to be… does no one remember Lucy, or the Iceman?? This is 2019, science has come a long way.

  33. I know someone that look exactly like her twins

  34. Most of these comments remind me of the German press around 1934 to 1939, trying to discredit Einstein’s two theories of Relativity. Pure ignorance. People nowadays never read enough

    • Most people of this day and age are unfortunately dumbed down to a point where they are illiterate. Being illiterate does not mean that they cannot decipher words. But it means, they are incapable of grasping the meaningful content of any written message. Must be because this skill is not necessary to read messages on fake book. And that’s all they ever read.

  35. More, “We wuz kangz” BS!

  36. Why is it so hard to accept that modern humans evolved from Africans? Accepting that fact doesn’t make Europeans any less European.

    • You really don’t understand how pictures like this are designed to propagandize Europeans into thinking they don’t have a right to borders? The out of Africa theory has also been debunked. Newer evidence shows human groups which are native to the areas outside of Africa.

  37. Migration from areas where more melanin is needed accounts ligtening of features over time. It’s not evolutionary as evolution is farce. It is however what could be called an adaptation. Honestly, it could even be as simple as the climate being different then. What’s in fact not true, and totally racist, is to say that modern humans are an evolutionary step from Africans. LORD!

  38. John Jacob Schmitt | December 19, 2019 at 8:48 am | Reply

    I always enjoy the biased imaginations of the artists who think they can render a picture of someone from thousands of years ago when they most likely know nothing at all about genomes. Genomes by themselves do not give enough information on appearance.

  39. Science, intelligence and religion can coexist. For many, myself included, religion is a “way” to live our lives now to prepare for the next. Whereas science and intellect are a gift. A gift given to continue or “evolve” the story of our species. The giver of these gifts maybe up for speculation, but the fact is, we were given these gifts and I applaud all who use them for the betterment of humanity. Does the female’s skin complexion really matter anyway? Does it change any of our outlook on life? I would place my wager on no. What if God used the big bang as his/her means of creation? And last but not least, as Forest once poetically prophesied, “s#!t happens” and then we die or until the next click bait catches your eye.

    • The skin complexion does matter. This is science. A study of the human groups native to different areas of the world. That may conflict with your understanding of Europe as gleaned from mass media in which they act like Somalians are as native to Sweden as Sweedes.

  40. We live close to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and years ago archaeologists came to study it and they found deep grooves in the rocks on the side of the mountain. They said it was from the glaciers thousands of years ago. My husband grandfather laughed at this and said he knew exactly how they were made. He said several years of logging on the mountain with very heavy chains made those grooves. He would know he helped with the logging.

  41. What is her mtdna haplogroup?

  42. Sounds like they where black??

  43. Robert macintyre | December 19, 2019 at 10:00 am | Reply

    It’s like when they show us a picture of our galaxy ?

  44. Uhh, no one with a brain believes native europeans had dark skin. The out of Africa theory has been debunked.

  45. Hahaha witty!

  46. Can’t understand how that red named Mark Seibold is “single”

    Poor guy. Stay in your bubble.

  47. Geri A. Mellgren-Kerwin | December 19, 2019 at 11:34 am | Reply

    As the article says at the beginning, this new source of genetic evidence is great in those cases where the usual source, human bones, is seldom found due to local conditions. Some of the gaps in our history may be filled.

  48. Interesting how science can determine the gender of a humanoid off of a 5,700 year old piece of gum, but today we got people who can’t figure out if they are male or female even though their own DNA is crystal clear in regards to their gender.

  49. What a beautiful mulatto,like I expected. Wow do I feel smart. Seems like today’s rap music has some affect on what people looked like thousands of years ago lol.

  50. They only found it coz she left it on the bedpost overnite.

  51. Female you say? I wonder what her pronouns were.

  52. Those who trip on the conclusions should read a bit, genomics has advanced to where a chinese company can show you what your children will look like. not a joke. also, the dark skin wasnt black, but mohogany red tinted like the blue eyed Cherokee. there were at least two ice age populations in europe descended from at least two different human/neanderthal hybridization events, in all ive counted at least 5 different white populations from distinct hybridization events. Of the two in western europe, one had white skin and one blond hair, both had blue eyes. most of us whites are a hybrid of those two plus a slav hybrid event creating the eurasians. the fins might be another. all slightly different and different from the other white groups like the aiainu of japan, Jomon culture and Kenniwick man.

  53. We all know it wasn’t gum. They can not legally talk about what it really is. Back in that time they worked items into a workable state by chewing. If you look at it you can easily tell what it is, it’s a tide pod. They can’t say it because some dumb*ss will start chewing it to keep the heritage alive.

  54. There is only ONE source where we will find ALL truthful answers..

  55. Maybe she bought the chewing gum at an extinct supermarket like K-Mart…

  56. Justwantthetruth | December 21, 2019 at 3:06 pm | Reply

    “Probably had dark skin “. Unless there is DNA that can guarantee skin pigment why was “probably dark skin” rather than probably white? The entire location is predominantly white. I find it hard to believe a short period of 5700 years changed the indigenous people from a tan pigment to white. Unless pigmentations can be a factual determination just say it is indeterminate. Europeans have every right to contest this. When it was found that 5000 year old mummies in North Africa had Caucasian DNA there sure was an uproar about that. That news got quieted pretty quick. But only whites get criticized for questioning ethnicity.

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