In forensic science, extracting even the smallest traces of DNA can be used as a biological marker to signify the presence of a person or object in a given context. But when no knowledge on context is available, exploiting advances in metagenomic barcoding coupled with knowledge on species distributions may be helpful.
In this study, researchers from Vienna sampled three marble statues of unknown origin for DNA extraction. They amplified the collected DNA and constructed libraries for quantification and taxonomic assignment. Matching identified taxa with distributions of GBIF-mediated occurrences, the authors were able to draw some conclusions on the possible origins of the statues.
In summary, the torsi appear to have been stored in agricultural soil, perhaps near an animal farm. As the genetic fingerprints were similar, the torsi are likely to have been stored together in recent times. Both carried sequences matching taxa endemic to Eastern Asia. The head statue, however, differed considerably with a microbiome indicating longer storage time in arid conditions as well as marine environments in the past.