Ancient DNA lab in Tamil Nadu to function from year-end

Archaeological excavations in Tamil Nadu: Ancient DNA lab to function from year-end

The lab will analyse animal bones to find out their exact species, plants to get to their roots and fatty acids

With archaeological excavations in Tamil Nadu gaining further momentum with significant findings, the Ancient DNA Lab being set up at the Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) will function in a “full-fledged” manner from December this year. 

Though the process of setting up the lab is still on, students and faculty of the Department of Biological Science are already working on analysing the artefacts that were unearthed from excavation sites in Keeladi, Konthagai, and Sivagalai in Sivaganga and Thoothukudi district respectively. 

The Ancient DNA Lab, which was announced in 2020 by the then AIADMK government, is being set up at a cost of Rs 3 crore to reduce dependence on foreign institutes to examine the artefacts and find their original age. 

The Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology (TNSDA), which is holding excavations in over half a dozen sites in the state, has so far been sending artefacts to institutes like Deccan College, Pune, University of Pisa, Italy, and Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow for various analyses. Carbon dating of the artefacts is done by Beta Analytical Lab in Florida, US.

“The real work has already begun. We are in the process of receiving equipment and setting them up on the premises. The work on the analysis of artefacts is being done with the resources that we have right now. We hope to function in a full-fledged manner by December,” Prof. G. Kumaresan, Department of Biological Sciences, MKU, told DH.

The lab will analyse animal bones to find out their exact species, plants to get to their roots and fatty acids. “We have actually come a long way since the lab was announced. The basic results of some of the analyses have come but we need to conduct more studies and hold discussions with experts before coming public about anything,” Kumaresan added. 

Six members, including two faculty, are part of the Ancient DNA Lab, which is a significant addition in Tamil Nadu’s quest for digging its past. The MKU is also signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the University of Copenhagen, Denmark to apply forensic anthropology and bio-anthropology on the human skeletal remains found from excavation sites.

Bones, teeth, skull, petrous and other parts of a human skull, paddy husk found in burial urns and sediments of offering vessels found at burial sites will be subjected to various analyses and studies at the DNA lab. 

“The DNA analysis will help us find the original age of materials found inside the burial urns. We have already sent soil found inside burial urns, and other materials to the DNA lab for analysis. The new lab will not just help us save time but also get results faster,” a senior official with TNSDA told DH.

Archaeological findings in Keeladi and Sivagalai in the Thoothukudi district have created a buzz with researchers and archaeologists in Tamil Nadu calling them significant as they “narrow down” the gap between the Tamil urban settlements and the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC). However, they say “more evidence” should be forthcoming.

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