Scientists develop the first AI method for dating ancient human remains

Scientists develop the first AI method for dating ancient human remains

An international team of researchers, led by Sweden's Lund University, has developed a method to accurately date up to ten-thousand-year-old human remains by using artificial intelligence to analyze DNA.

Being able to accurately date ancient human remains is essential to mapping out how people migrated throughout world history.

Radiocarbon dating, based on the ratio between two different carbon isotopes, has been the standard dating method since the 1950s. However, the technology isn't always reliable when it comes to accuracy. This makes it tricky to map how ancient people are related and how they moved.

The research team's new method, published in Cell Reports Methods, could be an essential tool for archaeologists and paleogenomicists.

"Unreliable dating is a major problem, resulting in vague and contradictory results. Our method uses artificial intelligence to date genomes via their DNA with great accuracy," said Eran Elhaik, a molecular cell biologist at Lund University.

The method, called temporal population structure (TPS), can be used to date genomes that are up to 10,000 years old.  Researchers analyzed around 5,000 human remains, ranging from the Late Mesolithic period (10,000-8,000 BC) to the modern era. They were able to date the studied samples with an accuracy that is rarely seen.

"We show that information about the period in which people lived is encoded in the genetic material. By figuring out how to interpret it and position it in time, we managed to date it with the help of AI," explained Elhaik.

The team does not expect TPS to completely replace radiocarbon dating but instead sees it as a complementary tool that can be used when there is uncertainty around a radiocarbon dating result.

"Radiocarbon dating can be very unstable and is affected by the quality of the material being examined. Our method is based on DNA, which makes it very solid. Now we can seriously begin to trace the origins of ancient people and map their migration routes," said Elhaik.

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