YMPACT at Unlocking the past: Ancient DNA symposium

On the 24th and 25th of September SciLifeLab Ancient DNA Facility, which is part of Uppsala University and Stockholm University, organised the Unlocking the past: ancient DNA symposium, marking the establishment of the facility. The symposium was held at the University of Uppsala and it brought together specialists from various disciplines, who gave insight on the different aspects of ancient DNA research.

Volker Heyd, the PI of the Yamnaya Impact on Prehistoric Europe ERC Advanced Project and professor of archaeology at University of Helsinki, gave a lecture titled The Yamnaya Impact on Prehistoric Europe – Archaeology versus Genetics? Or Archaeology with Genetics? The symposium was later briefly presented in the Gjallarhornet newsletter (in Swedish).

Heyd's lecture focused on the ancient DNA-research conducted on the Yamnaya, the Corded Ware and the Bell Beaker population and cultures. The lecture provided insight into the use of genetics in archaeology, its upsides and downfalls, and considered the possibility of collaboration between the two disciplines.


The Yamnaya Impact on Prehistoric Europe –
Archaeology versus Genetics? Or Archaeology with Genetics?

Since the two ancient DNA papers published in Nature in 2015 (Allentoft et al.; Haak et al.), complemented by the one of 2018 (Olalde et al.), virtually every archaeologist is aware of the importance of the sequence Yamnaya – Corded Wares – Bell Beakers in an ethnical, social and cultural upheaval covering all of Europe. Over the last few years, this new understanding has led, in turn, to enhanced archaeological efforts to assess in more detail and nuance the Yamnaya people and Corded Ware and Bell Beaker users and their cultures. It also pushed further scientific analyses. These special circumstances also led all of us dealing with the third millennium BCE to re-consider previous conclusions. In consequence, a new archaeological picture is about to emerge. I will today present this emerging picture, particularly in the context of the then ancient DNA studies. I will however also address 1) the pitfalls these and subsequent ancient DNA papers have produced, 2) what we should be doing next, and 3) whether it would be better to go ahead with a healthy distance or in close collaboration with ancient DNA.