Cervidae antlers exploited to manufacture prehistoric tools and hunting implements as a reliable source of ancient DNA

José Miguel Tejero, Olivia Cheronet, Pere Gelabert, Brina Zagorc, Esteban Álvarez-Fernández, Pablo Arias, Aline Averbouh, Guy Bar-Oz, Omry Barzilai, Anna Belfer-Cohen, Marjolein D. Bosch, Florian Brück, Marián Cueto, Martin Dockner, Josep Maria Fullola, Diego Gárate, Michael Giannakoulis, Cynthia González, Nino Jakeli, Xavier MangadoTengiz Meshveliani, Petr Neruda, Philip Nigst, Roberto Ontañón, Maayan Shemer, Petra G. Šimková, Jesús Tapia, Marta Sánchez de la Torre, Catherine Schwab, Gerhard Weber, Ron Pinhasi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antler is one of the primary animal raw materials exploited for technical purposes by the hunter-gatherer groups of the Eurasian Upper Palaeolithic (UP) all over the ecological range of deers, and beyond. It was exhaustively employed to produce one of the most critical tools for the survival of the UP societies: hunting weapons. However, antler implements can be made from diverse deer taxa, with different ecological requirements and ethological behaviours. Identifying the antler's origin at a taxonomic level is thus essential in improving our knowledge of humans' functional, practical and symbolic choices, as well as the human-animal interface during Prehistoric times. Nevertheless, palaeogenetics analyses have focused mainly on bone and teeth, with genetic studies of antler generally focused on modern deer conservation. Here we present the results of the first whole mitochondrial genome ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis by means of in-solution hybridisation capture of antlers from pre-Holocene archaeological contexts. We analysed a set of 50 Palaeolithic and Neolithic (c. 34-8ka) antler and osseous objects from South-Western Europe, Central Europe, South-Western Asia and the Caucasus. We successfully obtained aDNA, allowing us to identify the exploited taxa and demonstrate the archaeological relevance of those finds. Moreover, as most of the antlers were sampled using a minimally-invasive method, further analyses (morphometric, technical, genetic, radiometric and more) remain possible on these objects.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere31858
Issue number11
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2024


  • Ancient DNA
  • Antler
  • Hunting implements
  • Osseous tools
  • Upper palaeolithic

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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