Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) Guest Speaker

Hello everyone and welcome back from Winter Break! This semester we have an exciting lineup of blog posts and colloquiums featuring many students from our graduate program. Throughout the next few weeks, blogs will be posted to highlight students working on their thesis and the work they are doing. There will also be posts checking in with students who recently graduated with an update on where they are now. This semester’s posts will also feature plenty of conferences and the students who attend and present at them. So thank you for reading, and look forward to more content coming next week. Now, to officially kick off this semester, we had a guest speaker who explained her work of Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS).

Dr. Anneke Janzen is from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Anthropology. She gave us a presentation this past Monday called “New Identificant of Old Bones: Peptide Mass Fingerprinting in Archaeology”. In this talk, she explained what ZooMS is and how it can be used in Zooarchaeology to better identify taxa of animal bones, even when fragmented. This method works by extracting collagen from bone samples using HCl acid, which then has Trypsin added to it. This cleaves the bonds of the proteins in a known pattern, which can then be measured with MALDO-TOF MS. This reading can then be compared with a reference database of known animals, which they are still building.

This technique has many pros, including being extremely time and cost-effective. The entire process only takes around three days to complete and multiple samples can be done at once. It also has a relatively low cost, since it only costs as much as the consumables and the cost to run the samples on the machine, which is low if there is one in-house. It also works really well to get data from old and poorly preserved bone samples. The whole process only needs around 10 grams of bone per sample to work. It can also work when DNA is not present, so it can even work for really degraded samples as is often found in archaeology. This makes this method really good for collections where there are a lot of small and degraded bone fragments that cannot be analyzed morphologically.

This technique also has some cons, as it has issues identifying mammals, where the data cannot always get down to the species level. This means that some mammal species may only get down to something like equine instead of donkey or zebra. However, this also depends on where the work is being done and if there are a lot of closely related species in the region. Since some species are so closely related they may just show up the same. This is also hard to distinguish between domestic and wild animals that are living in the same area. However, for the most part, this is a good method for identifying species from a collection of animal bones.

Dr. Anneke Janzen gave us a fascinating talk on this method of identifying the species of bones from archaeological collections. We thank Dr. Anneke Janzen for making time to give us this talk and look forward to hearing more about this work and its implications for archaeology.