Integration of genomic and isotopic data gathered from archaeological, historic, and modern museum collections presents a unique opportunity for detailed diachronic study of species’ history, particularly endangered, extinct, or otherwise inaccessible species. With the advent of methods specific to ancient DNA extraction and bioinformatic analysis over the past 30 years and a decline in the past ten years of the cost of next-generation sequencing, a growing number of studies have begun incorporating historically collected specimens into modern conservation genetic studies (Austin and Melville 2006; Ewart et al. 2019). Ancient genetic data gained from archaeological, paleontological, and museum specimens can allow for an in-depth understanding of extinction processes that occurred in relatively recent human history (~800 years ago - present). Examples of genetic studies conducted on recently extinct or extirpated species using archaeological, paleontological, and/or museum specimens includes the passenger pigeon (Murray et al. 2017), Chatham Island sea lion (Rawlence et al. 2016), moa (Allentoft et al. 2014), and dodo (Shapiro et al. 2002), among a growing number of others.
I hope to use the extinct Japanese sea lion as a case study for demonstrating the potential that genomic data, in combination with zooarchaeological and isotopic data, has for illuminating the complex, intertwined relationships that humans share with their environment, particularly with marine megafauna. Specifically, this project seeks to investigate if and how the demographic history of Japanese sea lions was affected by humans and climate in Hokkaido. As archaeological excavation is inherently a destructive process, this study will also highlight how, by using newly developed methods, pre-existing collections still have much to contribute as they now have the potential to answer questions that were previously insoluble.