Ancient Biomolecules and Destructive Sampling at the National Museum of Natural History

Author(s): Sabrina Sholts

Year: 2018


Biomolecular analyses have revolutionized the field of archaeology in the 21st century. Rapid advances in technology have lowered barriers to biomolecular information by increasing the speed, affordability, and effectiveness with which researchers can extract and analyze biomolecules from ancient materials. Amid growing attention on museum collections as a source of samples for biomolecular research, the people who curate and manage these collections are faced with new challenges and considerations. Although destructive sampling is often necessary for the best available techniques, critical questions remain about how to balance the gain of scientific knowledge against the loss of materials for future study.

This paper addresses major issues in biomolecular research and destructive sampling within the context of the physical anthropology collections at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) of the Smithsonian Institution. External and internal processes for destructive sampling requests are reviewed, and appropriate conditions and expectations for approved proposals are discussed. Ultimately this paper aims to facilitate ethical and excellent biomolecular research on archaeological remains at NMNH, which has a responsibility to preserve and provide access to its collections in the service of science and for the public, as well as an institutional mandate to increase and diffuse knowledge.

Cite this Record

Ancient Biomolecules and Destructive Sampling at the National Museum of Natural History. Sabrina Sholts. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444133)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 20508