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The Science Life

Molecular biologist honors ancient bones

Remains of Clovis child reinterred after scientist deciphers his genetic secrets

By
10:00am, September 7, 2014
Biologist Sarah Anzick reburies toddler's bones

RETURNING HOME  Biologist Sarah Anzick carries a box containing 12,600-year-old bones to be reburied. The bones belong to a toddler whose DNA she examined.

Since she was a toddler, molecular biologist Sarah Anzick has had a unique connection to an ancient child.

In 1968, when Anzick was about 2 years old, construction workers in Montana unearthed the 12,600-year-old burial site of a young boy on her parents’ land. The 18-month-old’s bones are the only human remains ever found of ancient Native Americans known as the Clovis people. For 30 years, archaeologists stored the Clovis child’s remains before returning them to the Anzick family for safekeeping in 1998.

As an undergraduate, Anzick worked on the early stages of the Human Genome Project. She later specialized in cancer genetics. “So I had early exposure to the human genome, and could appreciate what we could learn from this book of instructions,” she says. When the Clovis child’s bones were returned, she realized she was in a unique position to examine DNA from the remains and “get a glimpse into the ancient past.”

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