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Tuesday, May 30 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Textiles) Identification of skins in a Chewa dance garment from Malawi using DNA sequencing

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In recent years, the study of material culture has increasingly included techniques based on DNA sequencing.  Information gleaned from the analysis of historic or ancient DNA (hDNA, aDNA) can be used to identify species used in the construction of an object, and in some cases, their geographic region of origin.  The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique enables DNA sequences to be obtained from extremely small samples of biological materials.  Like traditional microscopic examination methods, identification using DNA depends upon the availability of samples for comparison.  However, online searchable databases, such as GenBank, contain many millions of DNA sequences from hundreds of thousands of organisms and grow continue to grow exponentially as new sequences are added.  This paper briefly reviews the development of aDNA research using museum collections in New Zealand and describes the identification of mammal species used in the construction of an African dance garment.  The garment is thought to date from the 19th or early 20th century and was collected in Malawi and donated to the National Museum of New Zealand in the 1930s.  Records describing the garment as being made of monkey tails conflicted with the appearance of the garment, which was marked by a diversity of fur patterning and colouration.  As a garment used for dance and also handled by museum staff over the years, DNA contamination from several sources presented a challenge to properly identifying the mammalian species of interest.  We describe aspects of the method developed to overcome this problem and discuss the results obtained, which indicated that at least six species were used in making the object.  Ethical issues inherent in this type of research, sampling considerations and methods will be discussed.

avatar for Anne Peranteau

Anne Peranteau

Textile Conservator, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa
Anne Peranteau is Textile Conservator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. She received a BS in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MS in fine art conservation from the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in 2004. She has... Read More →

Tuesday May 30, 2017 2:30pm - 3:00pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom C Lobby Level, West Tower