Buonasera, T., Eerkens, J., de Flamingh, A. et al. “A comparison of proteomic, genomic, and osteological methods of archaeological sex estimation.” Scientific Reports 10, 11897 (2020). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-68550-w.
Sex estimation of skeletons is fundamental to many archaeological studies. Currently, three approaches are available to estimate sex–osteology, genomics, or proteomics, but little is known about the relative reliability of these methods in applied settings. We present matching osteological, shotgun-genomic, and proteomic data to estimate the sex of 55 individuals, each with an independent radiocarbon date between 2,440 and 100 cal BP, from two ancestral Ohlone sites in Central California. Sex estimation was possible in 100% of this burial sample using proteomics, in 91% using genomics, and in 51% using osteology. Agreement between the methods was high, however conflicts did occur. Genomic sex estimates were 100% consistent with proteomic and osteological estimates when DNA reads were above 100,000 total sequences. However, more than half the samples had DNA read numbers below this threshold, producing high rates of conflict with osteological and proteomic data where nine out of twenty conditional DNA sex estimates conflicted with proteomics. While the DNA signal decreased by an order of magnitude in the older burial samples, there was no decrease in proteomic signal. We conclude that proteomics provides an important complement to osteological and shotgun-genomic sex estimation.