Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS)

Proteins preserved in archaeological substrates can be extracted, processed in the lab and then characterised using a variety of mass spectrometry techniques. MALDI-TOF-MS is fast and cost-effective, and can yield “peptide mass fingerprints” (PMFs) which can be compared with a reference database of known proteins. When the target protein is collagen, the main organic constituent of bone, then we call this technique ZooMS (“zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry”).

PMF and ZooMS are ideal for taxonomic determination of animal remains which cannot be identified morphologically because they are heavily fragmented, or worked. Biomolecular zooarchaeology approaches have been developed for collagen-based materials (bone, antler, ivory) but also tortoise shell, horn and baleen, avian eggshell and mollusc shell. Only minute quantities (2-30 mg) of sample are required, and sometimes non nvasive sampling is also possible. There are countless possible applications of this method, which has become a fundamental element of any zooarchaeologist’s toolkit.