Pheomelanin pigment remnants mapped in fossils of an extinct mammal

Phillip L Manning, Nicholas P Edwards, Uwe Bergmann, Jennifer Anné, William I Sellers, Arjen van Veelen, Dimosthenis Sokaras, Victoria M Egerton, Roberto Alonso-Mori, Konstantin Ignatyev, Bart E van Dongen, Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Shosuke Ito, Fabien Knoll, Roy A Wogelius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent progress has been made in palaeontology with respect to resolving pigmentation in fossil material. Morphological identification of fossilized melanosomes has been one approach, while a second methodology using chemical imaging and spectroscopy has also provided critical information particularly concerning eumelanin (black pigment) residue. In this work we develop the chemical imaging methodology to show that organosulfur-Zn complexes are indicators of pheomelanin (red pigment) in extant and fossil soft tissue and that the mapping of these residual biochemical compounds can be used to restore melanin pigment distribution in a 3 million year old extinct mammal species (Apodemus atavus). Synchotron Rapid Scanning X-ray Fluorescence imaging showed that the distributions of Zn and organic S are correlated within this fossil fur just as in pheomelanin-rich modern integument. Furthermore, Zn coordination chemistry within this fossil fur is closely comparable to that determined from pheomelanin-rich fur and hair standards. The non-destructive methods presented here provide a protocol for detecting residual pheomelanin in precious specimens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2250
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2019


  • Animals
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Fossils
  • Hair/chemistry
  • Melanins/analysis
  • Murinae
  • Optical Imaging/instrumentation
  • Paleontology/methods
  • Spectrum Analysis/instrumentation
  • Sulfur/chemistry
  • Zinc/chemistry

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Dalton Nuclear Institute


Dive into the research topics of 'Pheomelanin pigment remnants mapped in fossils of an extinct mammal'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this