Bone collagen from subtropical Australia is preserved for more than 50,000 years

Carli Peters, Yiming Wang, Vikram Vakil, Jonathan Cramb, Joe Dortch, Scott Hocknull, Rochelle Lawrence, Tiina Manne, Carly Monks, Gertrud E. Rössner, Helen Ryan, Mikael Siversson, Tim Ziegler, Julien Louys, Gilbert J. Price, Nicole Boivin, Matthew J. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ancient protein studies have demonstrated their utility for looking at a wide range of evolutionary and historical questions. The majority of palaeoproteomics studies to date have been restricted to high latitudes with relatively temperate environments. A better understanding of protein preservation at lower latitudes is critical for disentangling the mechanisms involved in the deep-time survival of ancient proteins, and for broadening the geographical applicability of palaeoproteomics. In this study, we aim to assess the level of collagen preservation in the Australian fossil record. Collagen preservation was systematically examined using a combination of thermal age estimates, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry, and protein deamidation calculations. We reveal unexpected subtropical survival of collagen in bones more than 50 thousand years old, showing that protein preservation can exceed chemical predictions of collagen survival in bone. These findings challenge preconceptions concerning the suitability of palaeoproteomics in subtropical Pleistocene environments. We explore potential causes of this unexpected result to identify the underlying mechanisms leading to this exceptional preservation. This study serves as a starting point for the analysis of ancient proteins in other (sub)tropical contexts, and at deeper timescales.

Original languageEnglish
Article number438
Number of pages8
JournalCommunications Earth and Environment
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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