Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Necessity of DNA in Determining Gender - (Forbes Magazine)

If you read the popular archaeology outlets, you probably saw the articles about the mother and son killed in a tragic embrace during a volcanic eruption.

via Forbes Magazine

This article by Kristina Killgrove raises an interesting question about the relationship between the two based on mtdna.

[DNA Reveals That It Was Not The Mother Protecting This Child In The 'Asian Pompeii']

While it's possible the woman was a wet nurse, an older half-sibling, a friend or an adopted mother, she wasn't his mother.  It's not clear that the boy wasn't a she, and it's not clear that woman wasn't his, her or its father.  (to the credit of the Chinese, they did at least do mtdna)

This highlights the importance of genetic testing to determine in the first place, just the absolute, basic question of gender.  What is the point of shoveling out human remains and artifacts if we aren't interested in having unambiguous and empirical data?  (This would the opposite of Britain, home of the 1950's archaeologists who have zero, meaningful DNA prior to the Iron Age to show us, even in the year 2015)

Secondly, archaeology is about relationships.  After all, aren't we interested in actually knowing a little something about the relationships of people who lived long ago, or has archaeology advanced past the people questions?

Now that we are starting to see a trickle of DNA from gendered burials in Central Europe, a whole lot of books may need to be re-written about the warrior cultures of the Late Neolithic, or not, but that's why you test.


  1. I'm always surprised when genomes of individuals from the same archaeological site are almost never relatives. From Haak and Allentoft with almost 200 genomes, I only know of 1 archaeological site were two relatives were sampled.

    1. That's interesting. Maybe I'm grossly unrealistic, but I would think that remains from any ancient individual would have full genomic testing in the near future. Otherwise you're just leaving information on the table.

    2. I agree. Entire excavated cemeteries need full genome testing - not only to analyse "nigrations@ and mobility but to asses social/ biological relarionships of those within the cemetery itself .

    3. Sequencing related individuals would be really useful for determining haplotypes. You could phase family groups. Just imagine the genetic information stored in some catacombs with millions of skeletons. A genetic jigsaw puzzle.

  2. Not exactly on topic, but there is an interesting 2008 article on wrist guards found in Bell Beaker burials. http://www.academia.edu/228084/Bracers_or_Bracelets_About_the_functionality_and_meaning_of_Bell_Beaker_Wrist-guards

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