Ancient DNA (aDNA), genetic genealogy and biohistory

We are interested in how biohistorical techniques - in particular the analysis of ancient DNA - can be used to investigate and help us understand the lives and familial relationships of medieval and modern historical people. Biohistory considers evidence for historical persons drawn from scientific analysis of human remains, and presents a field in which archaeologists, geneticists, historians and genealogists can develop fruitful cooperation.

Almost 1,800 ancient human genomes had been published by the end of 2018 (Society of American Archaeology, 2019) and many more released since.  These discoveries are making a major impact on the field of genetic genealogy, stimulating an interest in early population history and the role of aDNA data in forming a better understanding of ‘ancestry’. 

We are based in the Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme at the University of Strathclyde and carry out research in genetic genealogy, its methods, applications and appropriate use.  We are interested in developing collaborative research into the impact of ancient DNA on biohistory, with the aim of maximising the valuable information to be gained from sequencing aDNA, for the benefit of all fields of interest.  Such research could include the following themes and questions:

 

  • Kinship. What role do kinship networks and family structures play in understanding the historical context for ancient, medieval and modern human remains? Is there a role in this for techniques of relationship matching developed within genetic genealogy?

  • Deep ancestry. The fitting of new aDNA results into the patrilineal and matrilineal trees being built from Y and mtDNA research within genetic genealogy.

  • Naming the dead. Is the identification and naming of historical remains – on the model of Richard III – extendable beyond celebrated historical figures to the non-famous e.g. in excavated churchyards? Would this be of interest to social and family history, and community reconstruction?

  • Ethics of biohistory. What are the ethics of extracting DNA from historical human remains, or attempting to identify facts about them within a biohistorical approach?

  • Admixture and public understanding. How can discoveries about ancestry and biogeographical admixture be understood by and communicated meaningfully to the wider public interested in such issues?

  • Citizen science. Is there a role to be played by citizen or community science in developing these areas of enquiry, and how can it be sensitively and usefully employed?