Given complete nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from an individual, would it be possible to approximate in what generation they were born?

For example, imagine DNA from someone who lived circa 200 to 700 years ago somewhere in Alsace (modern France). Could we narrow that range to say they were likely born between 400 and 500 years ago using DNA evidence?

Imagine this is an expense is no object project with a 1 to 3 year period starting in 2024 for doing the work.

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    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 27 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ It is possible w/ population history and local admixture patterns or new haplotypes appearing in addition to mutations, but is not a defined or accepted technique and likely to be inaccurate. $\endgroup$
    – BigMistake
    Commented Mar 1 at 5:22

1 Answer 1


Briefly, no.

There may be an argument for using similarity to previously observed archaic hominin genomes that you could impute the age by similarity to e.g. Neanderthals. But those would be very old samples.

There's maybe an argument that you could look at the level of admixture in the sample and try to guess where it happened in the human population expansion, or by relating it to pedigrees. My gut sense is that it would be very difficult to differentiate it from currently existing humans.

That hasn't stopped people from trying; I haven't read the relevant paper in detail but it seems to only work in judging relative dates of somewhat closely related people, e.g. "this skeleton probably isn't the same date as this other skeleton found in the same location". It isn't an absolute measure of date, and it requires reference to some other sample. The authors themselves say it isn't a replacement for radiocarbon dating.

But in practice no one bothers, given that ascertainment of ancient hominins is so low. It is much simpler to just radiocarbon date the same sample that you sequence, even if you are already sequencing. Radiocarbon dating seems to have pretty good resolution in that age range, so you might as well just do that.

Methylated cytosines are approximately as stable and unmethylated cytosines in ancient DNA, so they aren't a good measure.


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