Solving ancient riddles: UCSC hosts archaeological genetics conference

The newly formed UC Santa Cruz Archaeological Research Center will hold its first public research conference on how the analysis of ancient DNA can unlock secrets from the past.   “Archaeological Genetics: Genomic Approaches to Our Past” is set for Tuesday afternoon (April 14) on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

The conference will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. at the George Hitchcock Lounge at Porter College. It is free and the public is invited though registration is required.

 Since the first studies in the 1980s, the analysis of ancient DNA from biological specimens obtained through archaeology has propelled the understanding of evolution, providing insights on how humans diverged and interacted in the past, how biology and culture co-evolved, how environmental changes impacted past ecosystems, and also how diseases evolved and spread throughout the ancient world.

“Ancient DNA research has reached the Age of Genomics,” said conference co-organizer associate professor of anthropology J. Cameron Monroe, who leads the Archaeological Research Center (ARC). Monroe said archaeological research at UC Santa Cruz has grown dramatically, not only in anthropology, archaeology’s traditional home, but across the campus’s five academic divisions.

Tuesday’s conference brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines at UCSC along with others from Harvard, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Adelaide in Australia, and the Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

“These scientists will present a range of contributions that modern Paleogenomics has made to archaeological efforts to solve the riddles of our collective past,” Monroe said

Joining Monroe will be co-organizer Lars Fehren-Schmitz, assistant professor of anthropology, who heads the UC Santa Cruz Human Paleogenomics Lab. Also participating from UC Santa Cruz are Beth Shapiro, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Richard “Ed” Green, assistant professor of biomolecular engineering.

Green and another conference participant, Johannes Krause, of the Max Planck Institute, were involved in extracting ancient DNA from the 40,000-year-old bones of Neanderthals and creating a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome. Other participants have used DNA analysis to build the genomes of extinct species as old as 700,000 years, revealed the population history of prehistoric Europe, or reconstruct ancient oral and gut microbiomes that allow insights into past diets and health.