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Georgia Tech carpenter helps discover oldest DNA in Africa

Jack Davis and team in Malawi in July 2016. Source: Georgia Tech

A sometimes-archaeologist named Jacob Davis has found himself among the team responsible for the historic discovery of the oldest human DNA in Africa.

Davis, who is a University of Queensland alumnus and carpenter II at the Georgia Institute of Technology for 11 months of the year, helped find the DNA in July during a month-long stint working in his other job in Malawi.

Davis’ wife Jessica Thompson, Paleolithic archaeologist and an assistant professor of anthropology at Emory University, headed the project. The two met back in 2011 during a field course in Malawi.

Thompson’s team undertook a genome-wide analysis of 16 African individuals who lived around 8,100 years ago, finding divergent human lineage contributing to western Africans.

Speaking about his regular job at Georgia Tech, Davis says that “it could be repairing cabinets. There are a lot of doors that need to be fixed; gravity and time warp the hinges.”

These skills apparently also come in handy on an archaeological dig. “If you’re an archaeologist in the field, after a couple of years, you will come out knowing basic electrical work, basic mechanical work, and basic carpentry,” says Davis.

“I’m a huge fan of Indiana Jones,” he adds. “I’ve got the hat.”

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