Ancient Migrations: Biodistance, Genetics, and the Persistence of Typological Thinking

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


Social media is awash with the latest discoveries about the human past. Headlines read: “DNA of ancient skeleton linked to modern indigenous peoples,” “Ancient DNA suggests the first Americans sidestepped the glaciers,” and “Ancient DNA reveals secrets of human history.” These headlines all come from respected outlets with a connection to the academic community (Smithsonian, Science, and Nature, respectively). However, news media outlets with a more popular audience have also become interested in the stories and histories being revealed about our ancestors through modern and ancient DNA, and new toolkits include a heavy bioinformatics component. As expected, these headlines are a bit more sensational: “Are you tall? Then thank your ancient cousins: Neanderthal DNA still helps dictate your HEIGHT and whether you suffer from lupus and schizophrenia” reads a Daily Mail headline about Neanderthal admixture. Another reads: “The ‘founding father’ of Europe: DNA reveals all Europeans are related to a group that lived around 35,000 years ago.” Yet another, seemingly contradictory, headline reads: “Europeans drawn from three ancient ‘tribes.’” Communications technology has evolved in lockstep with advances in DNA recovery and analysis over the last two decades, perhaps giving the impression that studies of past population movements are a recent development. However, interest in “ancient migrations” has a deep history in western science, beginning with analyses of the skull using what are now referred to as biological distance methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBioarchaeology and Social Theory
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameBioarchaeology and Social Theory
ISSN (Print)2567-6776
ISSN (Electronic)2567-6814


  • Ancient Migrations
  • Headline Read
  • Human Past
  • Neanderthal
  • Typological Thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Urban Studies


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