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China to Test DNA of Ancient Skeleton

Chinese scientists announced  Thursday they will soon test the DNA of a skeleton dating back some 1,000 years, hoping to shed more light on the Khitan people.


The research on the skeleton, believed to be the remains of a nobleman of the Liao Dynasty (916-1125), which was founded by the Khitan ethnic group, will include physical anthropology, molecular anthropology and facial reconstruction, said Zhu Hong, director of the Frontier Archeology Center of Jilin University in northeast China's Jilin Province.


The 1.56-m skeleton was acquired by the Changchun-based archeology center earlier this month.


Scientists said it will be the first time for Chinese scientists to carry out physical anthropology and DNA testing on an ancient Khitan.


The skeleton was unearthed this March from a tomb on Mount Tugaljin in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to archeologists.


"We could not find out the exact identity of the skeleton, as we failed to find any inscription in the tomb that might provide a clue," said Ta La, the head of the team which unearthed the skeleton.


However, scientists and paleoanthropologists at the Frontier Archeology Center said they are optimistic about getting more accurate information on the skeleton through systematic physical anthropology and ancient DNA testing.


In May, the center successfully extracted DNA from the brain of an ancient human excavated from the Laoshan Han Tomb of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).


"We will be able to identify the skeleton's age, sex and facial image within some two months," Zhu said. "A lot of significant information about the history of the Khitan people is expected to emerge from the research."


However, the skeleton's broken limbs and darkened bones might lead to some difficulty to the study, said scientists at the university's archeology center.


"We are not 100 percent sure that we can extract DNA from the skeleton," said Professor Zhu Hong.


Usually ancient human tissue can only be dehydrated and kept in a special environment, and is rarely found in archeological field work. Equipped with China's first professional DNA research laboratory, the Frontier Archeology Research Center has set up a DNA database on ancient humans and successfully carried out DNA studies of bones of ancient humans found in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Inner Mongolia and Qinghai Province.


(Xinhua News Agency August 29, 2003)




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