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SoA Lecture Series: Dennis O'Rourke (University of Kansas), "Reframing Prehistory? Environmental DNA, Paleoecology, and Human Adaptation"


Feb 13 2020 - 2:00pm

Thursday, February 13, 2020
2:00 p.m.
Haury 215

Title: Reframing Prehistory?  Environmental DNA, Paleoecology, and Human Adaptation

Abstract: Genetic analysis has proven useful as an independent approach to test alternative archaeological hypotheses about prehistory.  Originally based on observed patterns of genetic diversity in contemporary populations, and increasingly through ancient DNA analysis, such approaches have refined our understanding of the past.  With the rapid development of high-throughput sequencing technologies, the resolution of genetic/genomic analyses have dramatically increased. These technological advances have also enabled the recovery of high-quality genetic data on early populations from proxy samples rather than human remains directly.  From the identification of Denisovan genomes in cave sediments to refining the timing of opening of an ice-free corridor at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, paleoenvironmental reconstructions based on environmental DNA and aDNA analyses of archaeofaunal samples have moved the field from testing existing archaeological hypotheses, to hypothesis generation.  This is, of course, a double-edged sword.  My research group has begun to focus on proxy aDNA approaches, including sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA), to test more localized hypotheses in order to refine our understanding of human response to ecological change, and to shed light on human adaptive strategies in prehistory.  I will review some preliminary sedaDNA and archaeofaunal research from western coastal Alaska that draws into question standard interpretations of Thule whaling origins and similar analyses from an archaeological site in mid-latitude North America that suggests a shift in plant based resources within a single material culture horizon.

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