Since 2003 the museum has been working on “old” DNA that has been recovered from our collection specimens.

Our partner in this project is the Institute of Biochemistry and Biology at the University of Potsdam (Prof. M. Hofreiter). This research includes, among other things:

  • DNA analysis of mammoth bones (4,000 to 12,000 years old)
  • DNA analysis of cave bear, cave lion, and leopard bones from the “Rübeland caves” (30,000 to 45,000 years old)
  • DNA analysis of our Steller’s sea cow skeleton (ca. 400 to 600 years old)
  • DNA analysis of the last lynx of Lower Saxony (200 years old)

The museum’s rich collection of well-preserved bones from the ice age that were found in the “Rübeland caves” in the Harz are especially rewarding for paleogenetic research. In 2018, for example, our leopard bones proved that leopards once originated in Africa and spread to Europe through Asia.

The low quantity of still preserved DNA in old bones and the danger of contamination with modern DNA make special safety and preventive measures necessary to be able to extract the “right” DNA. But it is worth it: In 2020, research on the “last lynx of Lower Saxony”, shot in 1818 near Seesen, concluded that his ancestors originally entered this region from the east and not the south. Luckily, today’s reintroduced lynxes in the Harz are of the same provenance.