The HIrisPlex DNA analysis system
that can establish hair and eye color from forensic samples in modern crime scenes can also identify details from ancient human remains, according to a paper which used the system to reconstruct hair and eye color from teeth up to 800 years old.
The system looks at 24 DNA polymorphisms, naturally occurring variations, which can be used to predict eye and hair color from human remains such as teeth and bones.
Dr. Wojciech Branicki, from the Institute of Forensic Research and Jagielonian University, Kraków, explained, "This system can be used to solve historical controversies where colour photographs or other records are missing. HIrisPlex was able to confirm that General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in a plane crash in 1943, had the blue eyes and blond hair present in portraits painted years after his death. Some of our samples were from unknown inmates of a World War II prison. In these cases HIrisPlex helped to put physical features to the other DNA evidence."
For medieval samples, where DNA is even more degraded, this system was still able to predict eye and hair color (for the most degraded DNA samples eye color alone), identifying one mysterious woman buried in the crypt of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec near Kraków, some time during the 12th-14th centuries, as having dark blond/brown hair and brown eyes.