Fish ’n chips: ZooMS peptide mass fingerprinting in a 96 well plate format to identify fish bone fragments

Kristine Korzow Richter, Julie C. Wilson, Mike Buckley, Nienke van Doorn, Andrew Jones, Matthew Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fish are a large, highly diverse, and anthropologically important group of vertebrates. However, fish bones are underrepresented in the archaeological literature because they are less stable than those of other taxa and identification of bone to species is often difficult or impossible. We explore a new identification system, ZooMS (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry), which is based upon protein barcoding. As proteins can be cleaved enzymatically and analyzed by mass spectrometry in a repeatable way, protein barcoding is used widely in microbiological contexts for quick and inexpensive protein identification; mass spectra reflect the differences in protein sequence and can therefore be reproducibly linked to a particular protein or protein fragment. ZooMS uses peptide fingerprinting of bone collagen as a method for rapid identification of archaeological bone. This has involved the identification of masses related to peptides of known sequence. For mammals, sufficient sequence information is available for this approach but for groups, such the teleost fish, species are highly diverse and there are few available collagen sequences. Here we report a preliminary investigation into the identification of fish species by peptide mass fingerprinting that does not require sequence information. Collagen mass spectra are used to identify eight species of bony fishes (Osteichthyes) from four orders: Clupeiformes, Salmoniformes, Gadiformes, and Perciformes. The method is applied to both modern and archaeological fish remains and offers the capacity to identify traditionally unidentifiable fish fragments, thus increasing the Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) and providing invaluable information in specialized contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1502-1510
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of archaeological science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


  • Fish remains;
  • Mass spectrometry;
  • Zooarchaeology;
  • Bone;
  • Species;
  • Taxonomic identification;
  • Methodology;

Cite this