Ancient DNA in anthropology: Methods, applications, and ethics

Authors

  • Frederika A. Kaestle,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405
    2. Institute of Molecular Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405
    • Department of Anthropology, SB130, Indiana University, 701 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington, IN 47405-7100
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  • K. Ann Horsburgh

    1. Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405
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Abstract

Anthropologists were quick to recognize the potential of new techniques in molecular biology to provide additional lines of evidence on questions long investigated in anthropology, as well as those questions that, while always of interest, could not have been addressed by more traditional techniques. The earliest ancient DNA studies, both within anthropology and in other fields, lacked rigorous hypothesis testing. However, more recently the true value of ancient DNA studies is being realized, and methods are being applied to a wide variety of anthropological questions. We review the most common methods and applications to date, and describe promising avenues of future research. We find that ancient DNA analyses have a valuable place in the array of anthropological techniques, but argue that such studies must not be undertaken merely to demonstrate that surviving DNA is present in organic remains, and that no such work should be performed before a careful consideration of the possible ethical ramifications of the research is undertaken. Yrbk Phys Anthropol 45:92–130, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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