Archaeogenetics

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Archaeogenetics, a term coined by British archaeologist and paleolinguist Colin Renfrew, refers to the application of the techniques of molecular population genetics to the study of the human past. This can involve:

  • the analysis of DNA recovered from archaeological remains, i.e. ancient DNA;
  • the analysis of DNA from modern populations (including humans and domestic plant and animal species) in order to study human past and the genetic legacy of human interaction with the biosphere; and
  • the application of statistical methods developed by molecular geneticists to archaeological data.

History[edit]

Archaeogenetics has its origins in the study of human blood groups and the realisation that this classical genetic marker provides information about the relationships between linguistic and ethnic groupings. Early work in this field included that of Ludwik and Hanka Hirszfeld, William Boyd and Arthur Mourant. From the 1960s onwards, Luca Cavalli-Sforza used classical genetic markers to examine the prehistoric population of Europe, culminating in the publication of The History and Geography of Human Genes in 1994.

Since then, the genetic history of all of our major domestic plants (e.g., wheat, rice, maize) and animals (e.g., cattle, goats, pigs, horses) has been analysed. Models for the timing and biogeography of their domestication and subsequent husbandry have been put forward, mainly based on mitochondrial DNA variation, though other markers are currently being analysed to supplement the genetic narrative (e.g., the Y chromosome for describing the history of the male lineage).

The same expression was also used by Antonio Amorim (1999) and defined as: getting and interpreting [genetic] evidence of human history. A similar concept (even in a more ambitious form, as it included the recreation of inferred extinct states) has been developed in the pre-DNA era by Linus Pauling and Emile Zuckerkandl (1963).

Archaeogenetics can shed light on the origins and geographical spread of prehistoric languages,[1] as well as assist archaeologists in answering questions regarding the influence of population growth in the archaeological record. In a recent study, results of the examination of mtDNA of modern populations of South Asia, East Asia and Oceania found a large expansion in population growth before the advent of microlith technology. A molecular clock was used to measure a jump in population growth dating to 38-28 ka. The proliferation of microlith technology followed soon after from 35–30 ka to the Holocene. While studies like this cannot offer a single cause for microlith technology, it does give archaeologists a window into the past that is otherwise unavailable.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Forster & Renfrew 2006; Gray & Atkinson 2003, pp. 435–439.
  2. ^ Petraglia 2009, pp. 12261–12266.

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