Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, May 01, 2017

Extracting ancient DNA from sediments - and the rise of multidisciplinary history

Fascinating story in The Atlantic, Scientists Can Now Pull the DNA of Ancient Humans Out of Cave Dirt.

In essence, new techniques allow animal and human DNA deposited into surrounding soil to be recovered. This has significance for two reasons.

It allows DNA analysis to be carried out without destroying fossils. It also allows inferences to be made even when direct evidence is not available.

When I first studied prehistory, we had very few scientific tools available. Now the explosion in science is reshaping our knowledge not just of the remote human past but of more recent times. History and especially prehistory have become truly multi-disciplinary disciplines.

One side effect is the merger of prehistory and history. A division based on the primacy of written records ceases to have relevance when so many alternative techniques and approaches are available. Now we have just history.

This poses a challenge to us all. I know that I struggle to understand let alone integrate all the new knowledge now relevant to the writing of history.


Johnb said...

I think of it as DNA 'shadows' being left behind Jim. I expect some blips along the way but our concepts of 'self' and our history are going to be up for substantial revision. I find it all very exciting.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a nice way of putting that, John. I, too, find it exciting