2.3 DNA

There is much potential in the use of DNA analytical techniques in archaeology. These methods include the analysis of both modern and ancient nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, chromosomal studies and new genomics approaches. New applications outside of Scotland have included modern and ancient humans; extinct and extant animals; the detection of DNA on artefacts to establish use, and in soils and sediments (so called ‘geo-genetics’); the sampling of pathogen genetic material (e.g. Mycobacterium tuberculosis) in archaeological samples; and even the analysis of plant DNA in order to study domestication.

To date, very little human DNA work has been undertaken on either Scottish archaeological materials, or on modern materials to address archaeological questions. There are some notable exceptions, such as the ancestry work undertaken by Dr. Jim Wilson and colleagues at Edinburgh University/Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. Dr Wilson is involved in media output and commercial enterprise (with the founding of his own company EthnoAncestry, offering genetic ancestry profiling), and has received substantial press coverage for his work using Y chromosome genetic markers to establish the ancestry of modern populations in the Western Isles, and the north of Scotland, and the contribution of Gael, Pict and Norse DNA to modern populations.

The analysis of animal DNA has been incorporation into a limited number of archaeological investigations in Scotland to date. Notably, this includes a recent AHRC-funded project investigating the phylogeography of the Orkney vole (e.g. Cucchi et al. 2009). Scottish material has also been incorporated into other phylogeographical studies, including that of the house mouse (e.g. Jones et al. 2010) and the wild boar (Larson et al. 2005).

Areas for development:

  • Movements and diasporas (population origins)
  • Population history (including demography, bottle-necks, etc)
  • Phylogeography of consumal species
  • Domestication of plants and animals