Oral Presentation Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution Conference 2016

Ancient DNA, archaeology and linguistics: on the chances, limitations and perils of working on the edge of time (#269)

Wolfgang Haak 1 2
  1. Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, THURINGIA, Germany
  2. School of Biological Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

When population genetic research tackles questions of human dispersal, migration and demographic histories, the latter are often adopted from or inspired by research questions and debates in the neighboring fields of archaeology and anthropology. Ancient DNA studies are no exception and rely directly on samples from archaeologically defined contexts to study events in human prehistory. The time-travelling feature of ancient DNA, i.e. the ability to record data from before, during and after particular turning points in the human past, has helped to elucidate many of the long-standing debates in adjacent disciplines. A prime example is the Neolithic transition, which saw the expansion of early farmers rather than ‘just’ the idea of farming being spread from its Near Eastern origin. However, outside the field of genetics, archaeologists and historians do not always embrace these findings, and genetic results are often received with skepticism. Aside from over-simplified peopling and demographic scenarios, colleagues from the humanities caution the unsupervised use of simplistic classifications (culture = people = language) or feel deterred by ‘deterministic’ approaches (biologism). This talk will showcase a range of current misunderstandings between both fields in an attempt to bridge the divide that still lingers between archaeology and genetics.