Extracting DNA from The Cairns & Mine Howe Whalebone Collections

Brenna creating a sample from a whalebone artefact unearthed at The Cairns

This week, Brenna Frasier from Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia and Vicki Szabo from Western Carolina University joined Dr Ingrid Mainland & Martin Carruthers at the UHI Archaeology Institute to examine the collection of whalebone artefacts recovered from The Cairns & Mine Howe excavations, Orkney.

The research is part of a large project which is investigating the use of whale bone in Western Atlantic society over the last 1000 years. Both Brenna and Vicki are following up on work completed in Orkney during February 2018 where they examined the whales found at Cata Sand and other whalebone artefacts from Orkney Museum.

Vicki preparing one of the larger whalebone artefacts from The Cairns excavation

During this visit, they are working with Ingrid to extract DNA and collagen data from the many whalebone items found at The Cairns to add to the literature and environmental research already completed.

The samples taken will enable the team to determine the species of the animals present, the species diversity present in the Western Atlantic region over the last 1000 years, the use to which the animal bone was put in society and even identify individual animals across the collections.

Some of the extensive whalebone collections from The Cairns & Mine Howe

Vicki said, ” The Cairns is a unique site and is the reason we came over. It has the largest prehistoric whalebone assemblage in our region of study and we are confident that the collection will add greatly to our research.”