A bone-crushing challenge in the hunt for the world’s oldest bone marrow

Written by Staff Writer Hagen Stenberg aka Sirogippi, a Piedmont, South Carolina-based meat specialist, has long felt a connection to the infamous Great Bull of Pingatowai. On Thursday, DNA analysis of the Great Bull’s…

A bone-crushing challenge in the hunt for the world's oldest bone marrow

Written by Staff Writer

Hagen Stenberg aka Sirogippi, a Piedmont, South Carolina-based meat specialist, has long felt a connection to the infamous Great Bull of Pingatowai.

On Thursday, DNA analysis of the Great Bull’s meat preserved for more than 50 years at the Piri-O-Tex Museum in the small town of Redondo Beach, California, has proved that this connection to his ancestors dates back 3,000 years — to the prehistoric era.

Serendipity

Simon Gregory’s DNA read: “bread binder’s foot” — that’s a breeding practice, or incision, of ancient human ancestors. Credit: Simon G. Gregory, Bioversity Institute

This discovery comes courtesy of Simon Gregory, CEO of the University of Texas’ Bioversity Institute and a butcher with a PhD in molecular biology from Princeton University, who has been holding a section of the Great Bull’s preserved meat for over a decade.

Gregory stumbled upon the meat when he was just 13 years old, and has had the piece ever since, believed to be the oldest preserved animal in the world.

“It just clicked — it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so obvious,” he says.

“It was incredibly important to me to try and figure out how to finally prove this — to help solve this mystery.”

But Gregory didn’t know which way to turn. For the next ten years, he read up and studied media reports about the condition of the beast’s body parts, and notes that the meat presented no problem whatsoever.

He also worked with other experts in its preservation. But it wasn’t until he decided to enter a competition for a chance to be consulted on the genetic conditions of ancient human remains in 2016 that he was contacted by Mary Sella, from the University of California, Irvine.

A part of the Great Bull, which dates back 3,000 years, is examined. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sella identified the condition of Gregory’s DNA through a technique called nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP analysis.

And, thanks to a further analysis by geneticist Brenda Weinman, it was found that the same SNP variation has appeared in DNA samples from 2,200- and 7,600-year-old English burial mounds.

What’s different?

Since the Great Bull’s culinary origins were never really explored — and only explained by folklore — the implications were monumental.

“In the 1970s, folk-science studies started to emerge that the preservation process, which is always referred to as ‘air-rapidity preservation’ by historians, is not only possible, but actually very similar to modern preservation techniques,” says Gregory.

The Great Bull’s meat, preserved for 50 years, is cut by Neal Gullo of Redondo Beach-based Hell-Bread A-Cure. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

One of the methods, also known as “air-rapidity preservation” or “parkinson-throat-restoration,” involves cutting hair away from the food portion of the animal, breathing air into the cut edges of the bone, and placing them in jars for up to five days before preparing the meat.

Rappaport says that “air-rapidity preservation” was applied to some animal parts for hundreds of years; but it appears to be “the biggest fossil record of that method to be documented by human remains.”

While the condition of Gregory’s DNA did not match for the Great Bull, Weinman and Gullo also agreed that it didn’t match many other mammals preserved in such a way.

Gregory says, “Using the same SNP analysis, they found a pattern of SNP variations in the genes of dinosaurs and birds, which shows that the preservation processes employed for these animals changed over time.”

That doesn’t mean the technique will be widely applied in the future, but Gregory feels that some “fat and oily samples of meat from ancient remains” will eventually contain exact genetic matches with the recently discovered ancient Caucasian human fossils, as long as their “reservoirs” are kept well.

Because Gregory, Weinman and Gullo were unable to determine the animal’s cause of death, Gregory says that “the best possible guess for the Great Bull’s demise is an accident that had tragic consequences, with its body broken into pieces, like bones, teeth and organs.”

Gregory agrees that something similar could happen with his DNA samples. But he says that “it would be very difficult and dangerous to move millions of years old with science,” and would require “not just a technology revolution, but a scientific community revolution.”

Leave a Comment