About this Project

This interdisciplinary collaboration between archaeologists and geneticists will enhance ancient DNA research at the University of Chicago and spur the development of a curriculum in archaeogenetics to bridge the gap between these two disciplines. An “ancient DNA revolution” is occurring in archaeology and ancient history because of new laboratory and statistical methods for extracting and analyzing DNA from ancient skeletal remains. These new methods have enabled the reconstruction of thousands of complete genomes from ancient specimens found in a wide range of geographical and chronological contexts. These genomes provide striking evidence of ancient population migrations, often challenging archaeologists’ long-held ideas about cultural change. The project will analyze DNA from ancient human remains excavated in the Middle East in order to reconstruct population movements and assess the prevailing explanations for cultural change in the Bronze Age civilizations of this region. This requires close collaboration and frequent discussions between geneticists and archaeologists of the kind the research team intends to demonstrate in this project. A series of workshops and an international conference will foster discussions of how ancient DNA results can best contribute to the construction of historical narratives. In light of concerns about biological reductionism and what some see as the implied racism of genetic studies, the project will seek viable ways of conceptualizing the relationship between genetic variation, cultural and linguistic similarities and differences, and the social construction of ethnicity and group solidarity.

Photo illustration by Benjamin Ransom

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