Skip to main content

Molecules: Chemical Modification of Biomarkers through Accelerated Degradation

By May 23, 2022January 19th, 2024No Comments



Biochemical and biomolecular archaeology is increasingly used to elucidate the consumption, use, origin, and trade of plants in the past. However, it can be challenging to use biomarkers to identify the taxonomic origin of archaeological plants due to limited knowledge of molecular survival and degradation for many key plant compounds in archaeological contexts. To gain a fundamental understanding of the chemical alterations associated with chemical degradation processes in ancient samples, we conducted accelerated degradation experiments with essential oil derived from cedar (Cedrus atlantica) exposed to materials commonly found in the archaeological record. Using GC-MS and multivariate analysis, we detected a total of 102 compounds across 19 treatments that were classified into three groups. The first group comprised compounds that were abundant in fresh cedar oil but would be unlikely to remain in ancient residues due to rapid degradation. The second group consisted of compounds that remained relatively stable or increased over time, which could be potential biomarkers for identifying cedar in archaeological residues. Compounds in the third group were absent in fresh cedar oil but were formed during specific experiments that could be indicative for certain storage conditions. These results show that caution is warranted for applying biomolecular profiles of fresh plants to ancient samples and that carefully designed accelerated degradation experiments can, at least in part, overcome this limitation.

Get in touch


Barbara Huber on Twitter/X