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Ancient genomics and the population history of the Circum-Alpine region

Project description

Key insights into pile-dwelling communities of central Europe

The Alpine Lake settlements, known for their preserved wooden and other organic artefacts, are important archaeological archives in human prehistory. There are over 1 000 known sites; of these, 111 are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The EU-funded ALPGEN project will explore the population history of the lake settlements from around 5 000 to 500 BCE. Specifically, the project will sequence ancient DNA and other biomolecules from ancient ‘chewing gum’ found at lake settlements in and around the Alps. This will advance our understanding of the Alpine communities’ interactions, demography and culture. The project will also offer new insights into these peoples’ health and the composition of their oral microbiome, amongst others.

Objective

The prehistoric pile dwellings in and around the Alps constitute one of the most important archaeological archives of human prehistory. Dating from around 5000 to 500 BC, there are over 1000 known sites in the region, 111 of which are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The sites are mainly located under water, on lake shores, along rivers, or in wetlands, offering exceptional conditions for the preservation of organic materials like wood, plant remains, animal bones, artefacts, and even textiles. Because of their exceptional preservation, the archaeological remains from those sites give us a unique window into the lives of prehistoric people and the development of early agrarian societies in Central Europe. However, despite the rich material evidence from the settlements, we know relatively little about the people who lived there. This is because there are no burials directly associated with the lake settlements, which has precluded the study of ancient DNA, for example. Luckily, there are other sources of ancient DNA, including ancient “chewing gums” which provide a rich of ancient human and host-associated microbial DNA as we recently demonstrated. In this project we will sequence ancient DNA and other biomolecules from ancient “chewing gums” found at lake settlements in and around the Alps to shed new light on the lives of the Alpine communities that settled there between 5000 and 500 BC. With access to over 300 specimens from archaeological sites north and south of the Alps, we have the unique opportunity to study their interactions and the demographic and cultural changes that characterised the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in Central Europe. In addition, the project promises to offer new insights into peoples’ health and the composition of their oral microbiome, as well as their diet and subsistence strategies. Together, the proposed research will provide us with a richer understanding of the pile-dwelling communities of Central Europe.

Call for proposal