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Remnants of the Past

High-tech analyses of ancient textiles yield clues to cultures

In a museum lab, Irene Good is studying pieces of silk from long-lost cloth found at archaeological sites in western Europe and central and south Asia. The material at hand—short lengths of threads that were spun from the cocoons of moths—is barely visible. Good immerses the threads in a solution to tease apart the strands of protein. Then, she uses several methods of biochemical analysis to examine the proteins' amino acids. What amino acids are present and their order vary for proteins from different species of moths and therefore give a clue to the place where the silk was made.

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