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But last year, reports started circulating that seemed to challenge this picture of stability.A study analysing genome-wide data from 170 ancient Europeans, including 100 associated with Bell Beaker-style artefacts, suggested that the people who had built the barrow and buried their dead there had all but vanished by 2000 .
They are concerned by sweeping DNA studies that they say make unwarranted, and even dangerous, assumptions about links between biology and culture.
“They give the impression that they’ve sorted it out,” says Marc Vander Linden, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, UK.
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The technology is no silver bullet, he says, but archaeologists ignore it at their peril.
Dna Day Essay 2010
Some archaeologists, however, worry that the molecular approach has robbed the field of nuance.But it is just the latest example of the disruptive influence that genetics has had on the study of the human past.Since 2010, when the first ancient-human genome was fully sequenced, researchers have amassed data on more than 1,300 individuals (see ‘Ancient genomes’ graphic), and used them to chart the emergence of agriculture, the spread of languages and the disappearance of pottery styles — topics that archaeologists have laboured over for decades.But improvements in sequencing technology in the mid-to-late 2000s set the fields on a collision course.In 2010, scientists led by Eske Willerslev at the Natural History Museum of Denmark used DNA from a lock of hair from a 4,000-year-old native Greenlander to generate the first complete sequence of an ancient-human genome.The genetic ancestry of Neolithic Britons, according to the study, was almost entirely displaced.Yet somehow the new arrivals carried on with many of the Britons’ traditions.But many archaeologists think these material shifts meshed into a generally stable culture that continued to follow its traditions for centuries.“The ways in which people are doing things are the same.They’re just using different material culture — different pots,” says Neil Carlin at University College Dublin, who studies Ireland and Britain’s transition from the Neolithic into the Copper and Bronze Ages.“That’s a little bit irritating.”This isn’t the first time archaeologists have had to contend with transformative technology.“The study of prehistory today is in crisis,” wrote Cambridge archaeologist Colin Renfrew in his 1973 book Before Civilization, describing the impact of radiocarbon dating.