From molecular genetics to archaeogenetics

From molecular genetics to archaeogenetics


Applying molecular genetics to questions of early human population history, and hence to major issues in prehistoric archaeology, is becoming so fruitful an enterprise that a new discipline—archaeogenetics—has recently come into being. That many of its applications have so far related to prehistoric Europe (1) is due in part to the detailed archaeological attention devoted to Europe by a series of nineteenth and twentieth century scholars (2). It is also due in part to the early application of a specific demographic model, the “wave of advance” (3), to explain the chronological patterning that emerged as farming spread across Europe at the onset of the neolithic period (4) and to elucidate the structuring resulting from an early principal components analysis of the classical genetic markers for Europe (5, 6). The application of DNA sequencing, permitting female lineages to be investigated through mtDNA (7) and male lineages through the Y chromosome (8), has already brought a series of new questions into perspective, generating lively debate (9, 10). The time is ripe, therefore, for more closely focused regional studies, devoted to specific historical problems. The paper by Wilson et al., (11) in this issue of PNAS breaks new ground in investigating one such early demographic episode, the Viking conquest of the Orkney Islands (Fig. 1) in the ninth century A.D. It also raises a number of general problems that emerge when reconstructing demographic history.


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