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10 DNA, mtDNA, genealogy,mass spectroscopy and nuclear related matters. Byron Deveson.

Courtesy Byron Deveson.

Based on some experience of tracing the genealogical connection between people sharing similar or identical mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) I think Mitochondrial DNA testing of the hair samples from the plaster bust of SM stands a reasonable chance of identifying close relatives of SM.

It might take two or thee years because the present public databases of mtDNA connected to genealogical data is fairly limited at present. But the databases are growing quickly.

Hair contains very much more mitochondrial DNA than nuclear DNA and DA’s team has already extracted mtDNA from SM’s hair and shown that SM’s mitochondrial DNA belongs to the H haplogroup (as does mine H1ag1) and Derek recently told me (below) that his team are hoping to refine the haplogroup (sub-clade) data. If his team are successful in this, then it is just a matter of time before SM is identified.

The mtDNA relatives would have a strong case in my view for the exhumation and autosomal DNA testing of SM’s remains. I am aware that identical mtDNA can be shared by relatives who are separated by up to fifteen generations. But such distant connections have never stood in the way of Attorney General Rau, and many others, granting ownership of archaeological remains to present day clan groups. Autosomal DNA testing, as opposed to mitochondrial DNA testing, is the genealogical gold standard.

Mitochondrial DNA will be very useful in unraveling the identity of SM but it won’t be as easy as unraveling the autosomal DNA data. As an example my autosomal DNA links me to over 4,000 living people.

These genealogical connections can go out as far as seven or eight generations and the sheer number of these connections means that there is enormous redundancy, and hence the potential error checking and error correcting attached to the associated genealogical information. Every match (ie. 4,000 in my case) can be cross-checked against every other.

The following is attributed to Derek Abbott.

We have tried the hairs (re: DNA).

The problem is that to blind search the man’s DNA cousins on genealogical DNA databases we need his autosomal DNA. But that is difficult to extract in sufficient concentration. That’s one of the reason we need an exhumation as his teeth would be a much better source. His YDNA and or mtDNA would be easier to extract from the hair, but that doesn’t give us the information we need to triangulate close relatives on databases.

However, we did do a simple low-cost mtDNA test just to prove there is extractable DNA still there and we found the Somerton Man’s mother belongs to haplogroup H. Not that exciting because half of Europe is an H. But I was pleased with the result because it establishes that there is viable DNA there that has not been corrupted by the embalming fluid.

Back to Byron Deveson.

I have just seen updated mass spectroscopy (MS) data for Somerton Man’s hair. The results show many anomalies and throw up many more questions than they answer at present.

There are many leads to follow and I am sure that SM’s occupation and/or hobbies, and the localities where he spent the last two weeks of his life, will become clear when the MS data are fully evaluated. At present there is just too much to check and digest but there are two matters that seem to be straightforward enough to warrant immediate comment.

First, SM’s hair contains what could be regarded as normal levels of the nuclear associated elements uranium 238, thorium 232 and lithium 7. I know that U238 isn’t the primary isotope used in fission weapons but it would generally serve as a marker for exposure to un-enriched uranium such as uranium mining and ore processing, transport and enrichment.

The same applies for Thorium 232 and lithium 7. It does not preclude the possibility that SM was involved in other nuclear related matters because these do not involve ingestion/exposure to significant amounts of uranium etc. I will suggest to DA that uranium 235 MS data should be extracted and maybe the other lithium and thorium isotope data should be extracted as well.

Second, SM’s hair contains abnormally high concentrations of both silver and gold. In general SM’s hair contains elevated concentrations of many elements, particularly metals that are associated with ore deposits of base metals such as lead, zinc and copper, and this suggests that SM might have been an extractive metallurgist – a metallurgist involved in extracting metals from ores, or a chemist working at an ore processing facility.


Zinc is the third most used non-ferrous metal after aluminium and copper. About 50% of production is used for galvanising steel to protect it from rust. Zinc compounds and dusts are used in cosmetics, plastics, rubber, ointments, sun screen creams, soaps, paints, ink, fertilisers and batteries. Around 30% of zinc used in the western world comes from recycling.

This post copies a comment by Byron Deveson in its entirety.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Woodley Winery in Glen Osmond used one of the Adits of the Glen Osmond mines as a wine cellar. Wolf Blass was living there in 1948 in one of the rooms. The original mines extracted Lead and Silver as far as records detail. They were all disused before 1940’s. Only the Winery Cellar was still in use up-to at least 1988.

    August 30, 2019
    • petedavo aka davo, as that the wine Wolf Blass, or someone else?

      August 30, 2019
      • According to an oral history project account of a Don Redman, a Mr Wolf Blass stayed in a flat at the Woodley Winery at Glen Osmond in 1948. This would indicate that the Winery had accommodation for itinerant winery workers or immigrants. The winery used one of the old Glen Osmond mine adits as a wine cellar. It would be interesting to check the levels of minerals in the old Glen Osmond mines against the levels in the hair of Somerton Man.

        August 30, 2019
      • Wolfgang Otto Blass..
        The oral history recording of Don Redman might have the decade wrong though, because the Wold Blass winery website said that he didn’t come out to Australia until 1960.
        Either way, what Don says about Woodley Wines, indicates that the cellar has been in constant use until they sold up in 1980s

        August 30, 2019
        • The last bloke who mentioned a Wolf around here was dusty sanders … who comes by from time to time.

          August 30, 2019
  2. gordon1552 #

    Byron, Have you considered an Ore ship? I would imagine that such vessels would have residual substances built up over time.

    August 30, 2019
  3. Russians shook non-toxic radioactive dust on the clothes and shoes of those they suspected of being double-agents. Reading about it now in Ben Macintyre’s account of Oleg Gordievsky’s life spying for the MI6. (The Spy and the Traitor)
    Who knows, we might find they had the capacity to do the same in 1948.

    August 30, 2019
    • More: METKA . Often referred to as ‘spy dust,’ was first revealed to the CIA station in Moscow in 1963 by ALEXANDR CHEREPANOV, a KGB walk in.
      It was first discovered in England in the 1930’s.
      ‘There was early research in the UK in 1940 by Prof F.G.Tryhorn, and possibly by the FBI and NYC Police also in the 1940s. The next phase seems to be in West Germany where chemical tags were developed from the 1950s to the 1970s.’

      August 30, 2019
  4. gordon1552 #

    Re the time period of two weeks mentioned in Byron’s post. Does that mean that there was only 2 weeks worth of available data that was extractable or does it mean that the focus was only on the last two weeks prior to his death and that data from the preceding period is available but just not published?

    August 31, 2019
  5. Clive #

    Wolfgang Franz Otto Blass born 1934, to Australia in 1961-was there another WB in SA?

    August 31, 2019
  6. Byron Deveson #

    Gordon, that is an important question. The period of two weeks derives from the fact that the hair was only a couple of millimetres long and the hair root was attached. The trace elements in the hair would be derived from three processes; the first process is the uptake of the major, minor and trace elements from the blood stream. The second process is passive absorption from the things that bathed SM’s hair in that two week period. Things in his bath water, hair shampoo, shaving cream, hair cream, cosmetic products such as hair dye, soap etc. The third process is environmental dust and dirt sticking to the hair. Unfortunately the first process (the uptake of trace etc elements from the blood stream) is complicated by the fact that the concentration of trace etc. elements in the blood is not an instantaneous process and is dynamic, and a two week time frame does not generally apply. For instance, lead is absorbed throughout life and long term storage of lead is in the bones. Shorter term storage of lead occurs in other storage compartments such as blood and tissues. Depending on many factors lead is absorbed and desorbed from these various storage compartments and the dynamics of these processes is mediated by many physiological processes. The whole process is dynamic and difficult to model even when all the required facts are known. In SM’s case we don’t have any of the facts that would allow us to even start to model the processes.
    It is possible that the high levels of lead in SM’s hair could have been released from SM’s bones if he was suffering some sort of physiological stress (such as a medical condition) or even temporary starvation or stress. The high levels of lead could come from recent exposure to lead or the release of lead absorbed in the past and stored in his bones.
    The answer to your last question is that the levels of the various elements in the 2mm long piece of SM’s hair are derived from exposures to these various elements (in food and in environmental exposure) over periods of up to a lifetime in the case of relatively immobile elements such as lead, cadmium etc. In short, it is very complicated and only broad statements can be made at present.
    If SM is exhumed I would expect that X-rays would be taken and these would show what are known as “lead lines” if SM had been exposed to high levels during his life. If SM’s bones don’t have “lead lines” then this, coupled with the high concentrations of lead in SM’s hair, would imply that SM was exposed to high levels of lead close to the time of his death (probably the last few weeks of his life because the rapid decline in the lead levels in the hair suggest that the lead was coming from temporary storage in the blood rather than being released from the bones). Which is to say that SM was probably exposed to lead (in his diet or in his environment) within the month or two prior to his death.

    October 24, 2019

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