Medieval Genetics

Population Mobility in the Early Middle Ages through Genomic Research

Under the direction of Professor Patrick Geary of the Institute for Advanced Study, a team of archaeologists, geneticists, and historians are undertaking genomic analysis of some 1400 individuals found in cemeteries in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, and Italy in the sixth century.

About

How can genetics improve our understanding of the early Middle Ages?

The history of Europe’s populations has always been one of migration, from the earliest Neanderthal settlers, to subsequent migrations of hunter-gatherers, farmers, invaders and colonizers up to the present masses of political and economic refugees from western Asia and Africa.  Continue reading

 

The Project

What are we doing to integrate archaeology, history, and genetics?

We are currently sampling graves from 56 cemeteries in the region as shown on this map. Continue reading

 

Who We Are

Which institutions and individuals are participating?

Our team includes archaeologists, historians, and geneticists from institutions across Europe and the United States. Continue Reading.

 

 

Our Findings

Nature Communications, examines ancient genomic DNA obtained from 63 samples from two cemeteries (Szólád in  Hungary and Collegno Northern Italy) that have been previously associated with the Longobards, a barbarian people that ruled large parts of Italy for over 200 years after invading from Pannonia in 568 CE. Our dense cemetery-based sampling revealed that each cemetery was primarily organized around one large pedigree, suggesting that biological relationships played an important role in these early medieval societies. Moreover, we identified genetic structure in each cemetery involving at least two groups with different ancestry that were very distinct in terms of their funerary customs. In both cemeteries, individuals buried with elaborate grave goods, like swords and shields for the men and beaded necklaces and broaches for the women, tended to have a genetic ancestry associated with modern northern and central Europeans today, while grave goods accompanying individuals with more southern European-looking genomes were much less abundant. The individuals with abundant grave goods also tended to consume more protein rich diets and these individuals made up the large kin groups in each cemetery. Finally, a comparison of the Northern/Central populations in each cemetery suggests that our data are consistent with the proposed long-distance migration from Pannonia to Northern Italy. Click here to read the article.