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Archaeologists have discovered the perfectly mummified remains of a sheep from more than 1600 years ago.
The remains were found in a salt mine in Chehrābād in Iran, more than 200 miles west of Tehran. The salt had acted as a natural preservative for the DNA and remains of the animal.
The research team has been led by geneticists from Trinity College Dublin, and archaeologists from around the world. The findings have been published in a peer-reviewed international journal called Biology Letters.
Lead author Conor Rossi said: "The astounding integrity of the DNA was not like anything we had encountered from ancient bones and teeth before.
"Mummified remains are quite rare so little empirical evidence was known about the survival of ancient DNA in these tissues prior to this study".
The natural mummification process was crucial to the preservation of the remains, preventing damage and fragmentation.
Geneticists hope more discoveries will help to further understanding of human and animal practices from thousands of years ago.
Dr Kevin G Daly, supervisor of the study and also part of Trinity's School of Genetics and Microbiology added:
"Using cross-disciplinary approaches we can learn about what ancient cultures valued in animals."
"This study shows us that the people of Sasanian-era (approx 200-600 AD) Iran may have managed flocks of sheep specialised for meat consumption, suggesting well developed husbandry practices".
The scientists of the sheep were able to remove a piece of skin from the mummified leg and this allowed a deeper inspection of the DNA.
The sheep was similar to modern sheep breeds in the region - suggesting a continuity of ancestry of sheep in Iran since at least 1600 years ago.
A gold-tongued mummy was discovered in February 2021, and revealed how Egyptians focused on their dead.
For more than 3,000 years, the Egyptians believed they must bury their dead with their best possessions and their mummified dead.
Of the dry-cured sheep, Rossi said:
"This DNA preservation, coupled with the unique metagenomic profile, is an indication of how fundamental the environment is to tissue and DNA decay dynamics".
Scientists hope the discovery will lead to further understanding, only time wool tell. Sorry.
Featured Image Credit: Trinity College Dublin
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