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Sediment samples were obtained from the Kap København Formation in North Greenland (82° 24′ 00″ N 22° 12′ 00″ W) in the summers of 2006, 2012 and 2016 (see Supplementary Table 3.1.1). Sampled material consisted of organic-rich permafrost and dry permafrost. Prior to sampling, profiles were cleaned to expose fresh material. Samples were hereafter collected vertically from the slope of the hills either using a 10 cm diameter diamond headed drill bit or cutting out ~40 × 40 × 40 cm blocks. Sediments were kept frozen in the field and during transportation to the lab facility in Copenhagen. Disposable gloves and scalpels were used and changed between each sample to avoid cross-contamination. In a controlled laboratory environment, the cores and blocks were further sub-sampled for material taking only the inner part of sediment cores, leaving 1.5–2 cm between the inner core and the surface that provided a subsample of approximately 6–10 g. Subsequently, all samples were stored at temperatures below −22 °C.

We sampled organic-rich sediment by taking samples and biological replicates across the three stratigraphic units B1, B2 and B3, spanning 5 different sites, site: 50 (B3), 69 (B2), 74a (B1), 74b (B1) and 119 (B3). Each biological replicate from each unit at each site was further sampled in different sublayers (numbered L0–L4, Source Data 1, sheet 1).

Absolute age dating

In 2014, Be and Al oxide targets from 8× 1 kg quartz-rich sand samples collected at modern depths ranging from 3 to 21 m below stream cut terraces were analysed by accelerator mass spectrometry and the cosmogenic isotope concentrations interpreted as maximum ages using a simple burial dating approach1 (26Al:10Be versus normalized 10Be). The 26Al and 10Be isotopes were produced by cosmic ray interactions with exposed quartz in regolith and bedrock surfaces in the mountains above Kap København prior to deposition. We assume that the 26Al:10Be was uniform and steady for long time periods in the upper few metres of these gradually eroding palaeo-surfaces. Once eroded by streams and hillslope processes, the quartz sand was deposited in sandy braided stream sediment, deltaic distributary systems, or the near-shore environment and remained effectively shielded from cosmic ray nucleons buried (many tens of metres) under sediment, intermittent ice shelf or ice sheet cover, and—at least during interglacials—the marine water column until final emergence. The simple burial dating approach assumes that the sand grains experienced only one burial event. If multiple burial events separated by periods of re-exposure occurred, then the starting 26Al:10Be before the last burial event would be less than the initial production ratio (6.75 to 7.42, see discussion below) owing to the relatively faster decay of 26Al during burial, and therefore the calculated burial age would be a maximum limiting age. Multiple burial events can be caused by shielding by thick glacier ice in the source area, or by sediment storage in the catchment prior to final deposition. These shielding events mean that the 26Al:10Be is lower, and therefore a calculated burial age assuming the initial production ratio would overestimate the final burial duration. We also consider that once buried, the sand grains may have been exposed to secondary cosmogenic muons (their depth would be too great for submarine nucleonic production). As sedimentation rates in these glaciated near-shore environments are relatively rapid, we show that even the muonic production would be negligible (see Supplemental Information). However, once the marine sediments emerged above sea level, in-situ production by both nucleogenic and muogenic production could alter the 26Al:10Be. The 26Al versus 10Be isochron plot reveals this complex burial history (Supplementary Information, section 3) and the concentration versus depth composite profiles for both 26Al and 10Be reveal that the shallowest samples may have been exposed during a period of time (~15,000 years ago) that is consistent with deglaciation in the area (Supplemental Information). While we interpret the individual simple burial age of all samples as a maximum limiting age of deposition of the Kap København Formation Member B, we recommend using the three most deeply shielded samples in a single depth profile to minimize the effect of post-depositional production. We then calculate a convolved probability distribution age for these three samples (KK06A, B and C). However, this calculation depends on the 26Al:10Be production ratio we use (that is, between 6.75 and 7.42) and on whether we adjust for erosion in the catchment. So, we repeat the convolved probability distribution function age for the lowest and highest production ratio and zero to maximum possible erosion rate, to obtain the minimum and maximum limiting age range at 1σ confidence (Supplementary Information, section 3). Taking the midpoint between the negative and positive 3σ confidence limits, we obtain a maximum burial age of 2.70 ± 0.46 Myr. This age is also supported by the position of those three samples on the isochron plot, which suggests the true age may not be significantly different that this maximum limiting age.

Thermal age

The extent of thermal degradation of the Kap København DNA was compared to the DNA from the Krestovka Mammoth molar. Published kinetic parameters for DNA degradation64 were used to calculate the relative rate difference over a given interval of the long-term temperature record and to quantify the offset from the reference temperature of 10 °C, thus estimating the thermal age in years at 10 °C for each sample (Supplementary Information, section 4). The mean annual air temperature (MAT) for the the Kap København sediment was taken from Funder et al. (2001)6 and for the Krestovka Mammoth the MAT was calculated using temperature data from the Cerskij Weather Station (WMO no. 251230) 68.80° N 161.28° E, 32 m from the International Research Institute Data Library ( (Supplementary Table 4.4.1).

We did not correct for seasonal fluctuation for the thermal age calculation of the Kap København sediments or from the Krestovka Mammoth. We do provide theoretical average fragment length for four different thermal scenarios for the DNA in the Kap København sediments (Supplementary Table 4.4.2). A correction in the thermal age calculation was applied for altitude using the environmental lapse rate (6.49 °C km−1). We scaled the long-term temperature model of Hansen et al. (2013)65 to local estimates of current MATs by a scaling factor sufficient to account for the estimates of the local temperature decline at the last glacial maximum and then estimated the integrated rate using an activation energy (Ea) of 127 kJ mol−1 (ref. 64).

Mineralogic composition

The minerals in each of the Kap København sediment samples were identified using X-ray diffraction and their proportions were quantified using Rietveld refinement. The samples were homogenized by grinding ~1 g of sediment with ethanol for 10 min in a McCrone Mill. The samples were dried at 60 °C and added corundum (CR-1, Baikowski) as the internal standard to a final concentration of 20.0 wt%. Diffractograms were collected using a Bruker D8 Advance (Θ–Θ geometry) and the LynxEye detector (opening 2.71°), with Cu Kα1,2 radiation (1.54 Å; 40 kV, 40 mA) using a Ni-filter with thickness of 0.2 mm on the diffracted beam and a beam knife set at 3 mm. We scanned from 5–90° 2θ with a step size of 0.1° and a step time of 4 s while the sample was spun at 20 rpm. The opening of the divergence slit was 0.3° and of the antiscatter slit 3°. Primary and secondary Soller slits had an opening of 2.5° and the opening of the detector window was 2.71°. For the Rietveld analysis, we used the Profex interface for the BGMN software66,67. The instrumental parameters and peak broadening were determined by the fundamental parameters ray-tracing procedure68. A detailed description of identification of clay minerals can be found in the supporting information.


We used pure or purified minerals for adsorption studies. The minerals used and treatments for purifying them are listed in Supplementary Table 4.2.6. The purity of minerals was checked using X-ray diffraction with the same instrumental parameters and procedures as listed in the above section i.e., mineralogical composition. Notes on the origin, purification and impurities can be found in the Supplementary Information section 4. We used artificial seawater69 and salmon sperm DNA (low molecular weight, lyophilized powder, Sigma Aldrich) as a model for eDNA adsorption. A known amount of mineral powder was mixed with seawater and sonicated in an ultrasonic bath for 15 min. The DNA stock was then added to the suspension to reach a final concentration between 20–800 μg ml−1. The suspensions were equilibrated on a rotary shaker for 4 h. The samples were then centrifuged and the DNA concentration in the supernatant determined with UV spectrometry (Biophotometer, Eppendorf), with both positive and negative controls. All measurements were done in triplicates, and we made five to eight DNA concentrations per mineral. We used Langmuir and Freundlich equations to fit the model to the experimental isotherm and to obtain adsorption capacity of a mineral at a given equilibrium concentration.


The pollen samples were extracted using the modified Grischuk protocol adopted in the Geological Institute of the Russian Academy of Science which utilizes sodium pyrophosphate and hydrofluoric acid70. Slides prepared from 6 samples were scanned at 400× magnification with a Motic BA 400 compound microscope and photographed using a Moticam 2300 camera. Pollen percentages were calculated as a proportion of the total palynomorphs including the unidentified grains. Only 4 of the 6 samples yielded terrestrial pollen counts ≥50. In these, the total palynomorphs identified ranged from 225 to 71 (mean = 170.25; median = 192.5). Identifications were made using several published keys71,72. The pollen diagram was initially compiled using Tilia version 1.5.1273 but replotted for this study using Psimpoll 4.1074.

DNA recovery

For recovery calculation, we saturated mineral surfaces with DNA. For this, we used the same protocol as for the determination of adsorption isotherms with an added step to remove DNA not adsorbed but only trapped in the interstitial pores of wet paste. This step was important because interstitial DNA would increase the amount of apparently adsorbed DNA and overestimate the recovery. To remove trapped DNA after adsorption, we redispersed the minerals in seawater. The process of redispersing the wet paste in seawater, ultracentrifugation and removal of supernatant lasted less than 2.5 min. After the second centrifugation, the wet pastes were kept frozen until extraction. We used the same extraction protocol as for the Kap København sediments. After the extraction, the DNA concentration was again determined using UV spectrometry.


A total of 41 samples were extracted for DNA75 and converted to 65 dual-indexed Illumina sequencing libraries (including 13 negative extraction- and library controls)30. 34 libraries were thereafter subjected to ddPCR using a QX200 AutoDG Droplet Digital PCR System (Bio-Rad) following manufacturer’s protocol. Assays for ddPCR include a P7 index primer (5′-AGCAGAAGACGGCATAC-3′) (900nM), gene-targeting primer (900 nM), and a gene-targeting probe (250nM). We screened for Viridiplantae psbD (primer: 5′-TCATAATTGGACGTTGAACC-3′, probe: 5′-(FAM)ACTCCCATCATATGAAA(BHQ1)-3′) and Poaceae psbA (primer: 5′-CTCACAACTTCCCTCTAGAC-3′, probe 5′-(HEX)AGCTGCTGTTGAAGTTC(BHQ1)-3′). Additionally, 34 of the 65 libraries were enriched using targeted capture enrichment, for mammalian mitochondrial DNA using the PaleoChip Arctic1.0 bait-set31 and all libraries were hereafter sequenced on an Illumina HiSeq 4000 80 bp PE or a NovaSeq 6000 100 bp PE. We sequenced a total of 16,882,114,068 reads which, after low complexity filtering (Dust = 1), quality trimming (q ≥ 25), duplicate removal and filtering for reads longer than 29 bp (only paired read mates for NovaSeq data) resulted in 2,873,998,429 reads that were parsed for further downstream analysis. We next estimated kmer similarity between all samples using simka32 (setting heuristic count for max number of reads (-max-reads 0) and a kmer size of 31 (-kmer-size 31)), and performed a principal component analysis (PCA) on the obtained distance matrix (see Supplementary Information, ‘DNA’). We hereafter parsed all QC reads through HOLI33 for taxonomic assignment. To increase resolution and sensitivity of our taxonomic assignment, we supplemented the RefSeq (92 excluding bacteria) and the nucleotide database (NCBI) with a recently published Arctic-boreal plant database (PhyloNorway) and Arctic animal database34 as well as searched the NCBI SRA for 139 genomes of boreal animal taxa (March 2020) of which 16 partial-full genomes were found and added (Source Data 1, sheet 4) and used the GTDB microbial database version 95 as decoy. All alignments were hereafter merged using samtools and sorted using gz-sort (v. 1). Cytosine deamination frequencies were then estimated using the newly developed metaDMG, by first finding the lowest common ancestor across all possible alignments for each read and then calculating damage patterns for each taxonomic level36 (Supplementary Information, section 6). In parallel, we computed the mean read length as well as number of reads per taxonomic node (Supplementary Information, section 6). Our analysis of the DNA damage across all taxonomic levels pointed to a minimum filter for all samples at all taxonomic levels with a D-max ≥ 25% and a likelihood ratio (λ-LR) ≥ 1.5. This ensured that only taxa showing ancient DNA characteristics were parsed for downstream profiling and analysis and resulted in no taxa within any controls being found (Supplementary Information, section 6).

Marine eukaryotic metagenome

We sought to identify marine eukaryotes by first taxonomically labelling all quality-controlled reads as Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria or Virus using Kraken 276 with the parameters ‘–confidence 0.5 –minimum-hit-groups 3’ combined with an extra filtering step that only kept those reads with root-to-leaf score >0.25. For the initial Kraken 2 search, we used a coarse database created by the taxdb-integration workflow ( covering all domains of life and including a genomic database of marine planktonic eukaryotes63 that contain 683 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) and 30 single-cell genomes (SAGs) from Tara Oceans77, following the naming convention in Delmont et al.63, we will refer to them as SMAGs. Reads labelled as root, unclassified, archaea, bacteria and virus were refined through a second Kraken 2 labelling step using a high-resolution database containing archaea, bacteria and virus created by the taxdb-integration workflow. We used the same Kraken 2 parameters and filtering thresholds as the initial search. Both Kraken 2 databases were built with parameters optimized for the study read length (–kmer-len 25 –minimizer-len 23 –minimizer-spaces 4).

Reads labelled as eukaryota, root and unclassified were hereafter mapped with Bowtie278 against the SMAGs. We used MarkDuplicates from Picard ( to remove duplicates and then we calculated the mapping statistics for each SMAG in the BAM files with the filterBAM program ( We furthermore estimated the postmortem damage of the filtered BAM files with the Bayesian methods in metaDMG and selected those SMAGs with a D-max ≥ 0.25 and a fit quality (λLR) higher than 1.5. The SMAGs with fewer than 500 reads mapped, a mean read average nucleotide identity (ANI) of less than than 93% and a breadth of coverage ratio and coverage evenness of less than 0.75 were removed. We followed a data-driven approach to select the mean read ANI threshold, where we explored the variation of mapped reads as a function of the mean read ANI values from 90% to 100% and identified the elbow point in the curve (Supplementary Fig. 6.11.1). We used anvi’o79 in manual mode to plot the mapping and damage results using the SMAGs phylogenomic tree inferred by Delmont et al. as reference. We used the oceanic signal of Delmont et al. as a proxy to the contemporary distribution of the SMAGs in each ocean and sea (Fig. 5 and Supplementary Information, section 6).

Comparison of DNA, macrofossil and pollen

To allow comparison between records in DNA, macrofossil and pollen, the taxonomy was harmonized following the Pan Arctic Flora checklist43 and NCBI. For example, since Bennike (1990)18, Potamogeton has been split into Potamogeton and Stuckenia, Polygonym has been split to Polygonum and Bistorta, and Saxifraga was split to Saxifraga and Micranthes, whereas others have been merged, such as Melandrium with Silene40. Plant families have changed names—for instance, Gramineae is now called Poaceae and Scrophulariaceae has been re-circumscribed to exclude Plantaginaceae and Orobancheae80. We then classified the taxa into the following: category 1 all identical genus recorded by DNA and macrofossils or pollen, category 2 genera recorded by DNA also found by macrofossils or pollen including genus contained within family level classifications, category 3 taxa only recorded by DNA, category 4 taxa only recorded by macrofossils or pollen (Source Data 1).

Phylogenetic placement

We sought to phylogenetically place the set of ancient taxa with the most abundant number of reads assigned, and with a sufficient number of reference sequences to build a phylogeny. These taxa include reads mapped to the chloroplast genomes of the flora genera Salix, Populus and Betula, and to the mitochondrial genomes of the fauna families Elephantidae, Cricetidae, Leporidae, as well as the subfamilies Capreolinae and Anserinae. Although the evolution of the chloroplast genome is somewhat less stable than that of the plant mitochondrial genome, it has a faster rate of evolution, and is non-recombining, and hence is more likely to contain more informative sites for our analysis than the plant mitochondria81. Like the mitochondrial genome, the chloroplast genome also has a high copy number, so that we would expect a high number of sedimentary reads mapping to it.

For each of these taxa, we downloaded a representative set of either whole chloroplast or whole mitochondrial genome fasta sequences from NCBI Genbank82, including a single representative sequence from a recently diverged outgroup. For the Betula genus, we also included three chloroplast genomes from the PhyloNorway database34,83. We changed all ambiguous bases in the fasta files to N. We used MAFFT84 to align each of these sets of reference sequences, and inspected multiple sequence alignments in NCBI MSAViewer to confirm quality85. We trimmed mitochondrial alignments with insufficient quality due to highly variable control regions for Leporidae, Cricetidae and Anserinae by removing the d-loop in MegaX86.

The BEAST suite49 was used with default parameters to create ultrametric phylogenetic trees for each of the five sets of taxa from the multiple sequence alignments (MSAs) of reference sequences, which were converted from Nexus to Newick format in Figtree ( We then passed the multiple sequence alignments to the Python module AlignIO from BioPython87 to create a reference consensus fasta sequence for each set of taxa. Furthermore, we used SNPSites88 to create a vcf file from each of the MSAs. Since SNPSites outputs a slightly different format for missing data than needed for downstream analysis, we used a custom R script to modify the vcf format appropriately. We also filtered out non-biallelic SNPs.

From the damage filtered ngsLCA output, we extracted all readIDs uniquely classified to reference sequences within these respective taxa or assigned to any common ancestor inside the taxonomic group and converted these back to fastq files using seqtk ( We merged reads from all sites and layers to create a single read set for each respective taxon. Next, since these extracted reads were mapped against a reference database including multiple sequences from each taxon, the output files were not on the same coordinate system. To circumvent this issue and avoid mapping bias, we re-mapped each read set to the consensus sequence generated above for that taxon using bwa89 with ancient DNA parameters (bwa aln -n 0.001). We converted these reads to bam files, removed unmapped reads, and filtered for mapping quality > 25 using samtools90. This produced 103,042, 39,306, 91,272, 182 and 129 reads for Salix, Populus, Betula, Elephantidae and Capreolinae, respectively.

We next used pathPhynder62, a phylogenetic placement algorithm that identifies informative markers on a phylogeny from a reference panel, evaluates SNPs in the ancient sample overlapping these markers, and traverses the tree to place the ancient sample according to its derived and ancestral SNPs on each branch. We used the transversions-only filter to avoid errors due to deamination, except for Betula, Salix and Populus in which we used no filter due to sufficiently high coverage. Last, we investigated the pathPhynder output in each taxon set to determine the phylogenetic placement of our ancient samples (see Supplementary Information for discussion on phylogenetic placement).

Based on the analysis described above we further investigated the phylogenetic placement within the genus Mammut, or mastodons. To avoid mapping reference biases in the downstream results, we first built a consensus sequence from all comparative mitochondrial genomes used in said analysis and mapped the reads identified in ngsLCA as Elephantidae to the consensus sequence. Consensus sequences were constructed by first aligning all sequences of interest using MAFFT84 and taking a majority rule consensus base in Geneious v2020.0.5 ( We performed three analyses for phylogenetic placement of our sequence: (1) Comparison against a single representative from each Elephantidae species including the sea cow (Dugong dugon) as outgroup, (2) Comparison against a single representative from each Elephantidae species, and (3) Comparison against all published mastodon mitochondrial genomes including the Asian elephant as outgroup.

For each of these analyses we first built a new reference tree using BEAST v1.10.4 (ref. 47) and repeated the previously described pathPhynder steps, with the exception that the pathPhynder tree path analysis for the Mammut SNPs was based on transitions and transversions, not restricting to only transversions due to low coverage.

Mammut americanum

We confirmed the phylogenetic placement of our sequence using a selection of Elephantidae mitochondrial reference sequences, GTR+G, strict clock, a birth-death substitution model, and ran the MCMC chain for 20,000,000 runs, sampling every 20,000 steps. Convergence was assessed using Tracer91 v1.7.2 and an effective sample size (ESS) > 200. To determine the approximate age of our recovered mastodon mitogenome we performed a molecular dating analysis with BEAST47 v1.10.4. We used two separate approaches when dating our mastodon mitogenome, as demonstrated in a recent publication92. First, we determined the age of our sequence by comparing against a dataset of radiocarbon-dated specimens (n = 13) only. Secondly, we estimated the age of our sequence including both molecularly (n = 22) and radiocarbon-dated (n = 13) specimens using the molecular dates previously determined92. We utilized the same BEAST parameters as Karpinski et al.92 and set the age of our sample with a gamma distribution (5% quantile: 8.72 × 104, Median: 1.178 × 106; 95% quantile: 5.093 × 106; initial value: 74,900; shape: 1; scale: 1,700,000). In short, we specified a substitution model of GTR+G4, a strict clock, constant population size, and ran the Markov Chain Monte Carlo chain for 50,000,000 runs, sampling every 50,000 steps. Convergence of the run was again determined using Tracer.

Molecular dating methods

In this section, we describe molecular dating of the ancient birch (Betula) chloroplast genome using BEAST v1.10.4 (ref. 47). In principle, the genera Betula, Populus and Salix had both sufficiently high chloroplast genome coverage (with mean depth 24.16×, 57.06× and 27.04×, respectively, although this coverage is highly uneven across the chloroplast genome) and enough reference sequences to attempt molecular dating on these samples. Notably, this is one of the reasons we included a recently diverged outgroup with a divergence time estimate in each of these phylogenetic trees. However, our Populus sample clearly contained a mixture of different species, as seen from its inconsistent placement in the pathPhynder output. In particular, there were multiple supporting SNPs to both Populus balsamifera and Populus trichocarpa, and both supporting and conflicting SNPs on branches above. Furthermore, upon inspection, our Salix sample contained a surprisingly high number of private SNPs which is inconsistent with any ancient or even modern age, especially considering the number of SNPs assigned to the edges of the phylogenetic tree leading to other Salix sequences. We are unsure what causes this inconsistency but hypothesize that our Salix sample is also a mixed sample, containing multiple Salix species that diverged from the same placement branch on the phylogenetic tree at different time periods. This is supported by looking at all the reads that cover these private SNP sites, which generally appear to be from a mixed sample, with reads containing both alternate and reference alleles present at a high proportion in many cases. Alternatively, or potentially jointly in parallel, this could be a consequence of the high number of nuclear plastid DNA sequences (NUPTs) in Salix93. Because of this, we continued with only Betula.

First, we downloaded 27 complete reference Betula chloroplast genome sequences and a single Alnus chloroplast genome sequence to use as an outgroup from the NCBI Genbank repository, and supplemented this with three Betula chloroplast sequences from the PhyloNorway database generated in a recent study29, for a total of 31 reference sequences. Since chloroplast sequences are circular, downloaded sequences may not always be in the same orientation or at the same starting point as is necessary for alignment, so we used custom code ( that uses an anchor string to rotate the reference sequences to the same orientation and start them all from the same point. We created a MSA of these transformed reference sequences with Mafft84 and checked the quality of our alignment by eye in Seqotron94 and NCBI MsaViewer. Next, we called a consensus sequence from this MSA using the BioAlign consensus function87 in Python, which is a majority rule consensus caller. We will use this consensus sequence to map the ancient Betula reads to, both to avoid reference bias and to get the ancient Betula sample on the same coordinates as the reference MSA.

From the last common ancestor output in metaDMG36, we extracted read sets for all units, sites and levels that were uniquely classified to the taxonomic level of Betula or lower, with at a minimum sequence similarity of 90% or higher to any Betula sequence, using Seqtk95. We mapped these read sets against the consensus Betula chloroplast genome using BWA89 with ancient DNA parameters (-o 2 -n 0.001 -t 20), then removed unmapped reads, quality filtered for read quality ≥25, and sorted the resulting bam files using samtools89. For the purpose of molecular dating, it is appropriate to consider these read sets as a single sample, and so we merged the resulting bam files into one sample using samtools. We used bcftools89 to make an mpileup and call a vcf file, using options for haploidy and disabling the default calling algorithm, which can slightly biases the calls towards the reference sequence, in favour of a majority call on bases that passed the default base quality cut-off of 13. We included the default option using base alignment qualities96, which we found greatly reduced the read depths of some bases and removed spurious SNPs around indel regions. Lastly, we filtered the vcf file to include only single nucleotide variants, because we do not believe other variants such as insertions or deletions in an ancient environmental sample of this type to be of sufficiently high confidence to include in molecular dating.

We downloaded the gff3 annotation file for the longest Betula reference sequence, MG386368.1, from NCBI. Using custom R code97, we parsed this file and the associated fasta to label individual sites as protein-coding regions (in which we labelled the base with its position in the codon according to the phase and strand noted in the gff3 file), RNA, or neither coding nor RNA. We extracted the coding regions and checked in Seqotron94 and R that they translated to a protein alignment well (for example, no premature stop codons), both in the reference sequence and the associated positions in the ancient sequence. Though the modern reference sequence’s coding regions translated to a high-quality protein alignment, translating the associated positions in the ancient sequence with no depth cut-off leads to premature stop codons and an overall poor quality protein alignment. On the other hand, when using a depth cut-off of 20 and replacing sites in the ancient sequence which did not meet this filter with N, we see a high-quality protein alignment (except for the N sites). We also interrogated any positions in the ancient sequence which differed from the consensus, and found that any suspicious regions (for example, with multiple SNPs clustered closely together spatially in the genome) were removed with a depth cut-off of 20. Because of this, we moved forward only with sites in both the ancient and modern samples which met a depth cut-off of at least 20 in the ancient sample, which consisted of about 30% of the total sites.

Next, we parsed this annotation through the multiple sequence alignment to create partitions for BEAST47. After checking how many polymorphic and total sites were in each, we decided to use four partitions: (1) sites belonging to protein-coding positions 1 and 2, (2) coding position 3, (3) RNA, or (4) non-coding and non-RNA. To ensure that these were high confidence sites, each partition also only included those positions which had at least depth 20 in the ancient sequence and had less than 3 total gaps in the multiple sequence alignment. This gave partitions which had 11,668, 5,828, 2,690 and 29,538 sites, respectively. We used these four partitions to run BEAST47 v1.10.4, with unlinked substitution models for each partition and a strict clock, with a different relative rate for each partition. (There was insufficient information in these data to infer between-lineage rate variation from a single calibration). We assigned an age of 0 to all of the reference sequences, and used a normal distribution prior with mean 61.1 Myr and standard deviation 1.633 Myr for the root height48; standard deviation was obtained by conservatively converting the 95% HPD to z-scores. For the overall tree prior, we selected the coalescent model. The age of the ancient sequence was estimated following the overall procedures of Shapiro et al. (2011)98. To assess sensitivity to prior choice for this unknown date, we used two different priors, namely a gamma distribution metric towards a younger age (shape = 1, scale = 1.7); and a uniform prior on the range (0, 10 Myr). We also compared two different models of rate variation among sites and substitution types within each partition, namely a GTR+G with four rate categories, and base frequencies estimated from the data, and the much simpler Jukes Cantor model, which assumed no variation between substitution types nor sites within each partition. All other priors were set at their defaults. Neither rate model nor prior choice had a qualitative effect on results (Extended Data Fig. 10). We also ran the coding regions alone, since they translated correctly and are therefore highly reliable sites and found that they gave the same median and a much larger confidence interval, as expected when using fewer sites (Extended Data Fig. 10). We ran each Markov chain Monte Carlo for a total of 100 million iterations. After removing a burn-in of the first 10%, we verified convergence in Tracer91 v1.7.2 (apparent stationarity of traces, and all parameters having an Effective Sample Size > 100). We also verified that the resulting MCC tree from TreeAnnotator47 had placed the ancient sequence phylogenetically identically to pathPhynder62 placement, which is shown in Extended Data Fig. 9. For our major results, we report the uniform ancient age prior, and the GTR+G4 model applied to each of the four partitions. The associated XML is given in Source Data 3. The 95% HPD was (2.0172,0.6786) for the age of the ancient Betula chloroplast sequence, with a median estimate of 1.323 Myr, as shown in Fig. 2.

Reporting summary

Further information on research design is available in the Nature Portfolio Reporting Summary linked to this article.

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