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COREX: from correlations to explanations

Research project
Active research
Project size
100 million SEK
Project period
2021 - 2027
Project owner
Department of Historical studies

Short description

The study of the past is undergoing a dramatic transformation: researchers in the fields of archaeology, genetics, linguistics, history and archaeometry are blurring the lines delimiting their respective fields, and working in increasingly collaborative efforts to understand how history and prehistory unfolded. Recent debates stress the need for new explanatory models which integrate both micro- and macro-level historical processes, and diverse types of datasets. We approach this challenge by applying novel modelling approaches allowing us to move from correlations to explanations of how changes have been shaped by the dynamic interaction of cultural innovation, migration, admixture, population growth and collapse, landscape transformation, dietary change, biological adaptation, social structure, and the emergence of new diseases.

The overall goal of this project is to explain the key processes that formed the genetic and cultural diversity of Europe north of the Mediterranean from the beginning of farming 6000 BCE to the end of the Bronze Age 500 BCE. Through synergies between world-experts in a number of disciplines, we will explore how small-scale processes generate large-scale patterns in genetic and cultural data, and will investigate how the two interact. We will achieve this by applying novel modelling approaches allowing us to move from correlations to explanations of how changes have been shaped by the dynamic interaction of cultural innovation, migration, admixture, population growth and collapse, dietary change, biological adaptation, social structure, and the emergence of new diseases. To achieve this overall goal the project is built upon four specific aims, which translates into four work packages (WPs): WP1: Database for C14, cultural and subsistence (including isotope) data, ancient genomes, eDNA sites, fossil pollen datasets and strontium samples WP2: Environmental DNA and high resolution local environments, WP3 Exploratory analyses and discriminative models WP4 Generative models and explanations.

Our findings will serve to determine what the impact of the movement of people was on the European landscape, simultaneously on multiple scales: continental, regional and local, providing a research program defying the boundaries of archaeology, genetics and mathematical modelling. 

Schematic of proposed modelling procedure. We will use spatiotemporally-aware models to understand how patterns of human genetic ancestry and climate changes relate to patterns of vegetation type changes during the European Holocene.

Karin Frei is professor in archaeometry at the National Museum in Copenhagen. She pioneered the application of strontium isotopic tracing to both prehistoric wool and hair, leading to several groundbreaking and award winning papers. She has also pioneered baseline research in Scandinavia as well as the Mediterranean and Europe providing a foundation for this project. She collaborated with Kristian Kristiansen during his ERC Advanced Grant as well as in his current Riksbank project.

Fernando Racimo (Geogenetics, senior collaborator) is an assistant professor at the GeoGenetics Centre in the University of Copenhagen. He has worked in several large-scale projects involving population genomic analyses of ancient modern humans and archaic hominins, and has developed several methods to detect positive selection, infer patterns of adaptive introgression and estimate contamination in ancient genomes. His current research interests involve creating methods to integrate functional genomic population genomic and archaeological data, to infer past demographic and adaptive processes in human prehistory.

Bettina Schulz Paulsson (GU): Specialized on the megalithic tombs of Western Europe, and has worked extensively with their chronology. She has built a large database of 14C dates from these tombs, and employed Bayesian statistics on a large scale to analyze their origin and dispersal. She is a recognized specialist on Bayesian analysis of 14C data, and has solid experience in database management.

Stephen Shennan (UCL: Senior collaborator): Works on long-term change in prehistory through reconstruction of demographic patterns and their relationship with changes in subsistence and material culture. Held ERC Advanced Grant 2010-2015 for project Cultural Evolution of Neolithic Europe. He pioneered the application of advanced modelling of archaeological, cultural and environmental data, providing a foundation for this project.

Karl-Göran Sjögren (GU, senior collaborator) has worked extensively with questions around social structure, economy and mobility in the northern European Neolithic. He has led several projects in this field. He has been employing a variety of methods, including statistics, spatial analysis, isotopic analyses, dietary modeling, and aDNA integrated with archaeological methods to elucidate these societies. He is also a specialist on the megalithic tombs of northern and western Europe.

Eske Willerslev (geogenetics, senior collaborator) is a world leading experimental geneticist who pioneered both environmental DNA and next generation sequencing. He has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers during the past 10 years of which more than 40 in Nature and Science.

Jessie Woodbridge and Ralp Fyfe have contributed novel methods and continental scale research outputs to the field of Holocene vegetation change across the European continent. Jessie Woodbridge has been a post- doctoral research fellow on three Leverhulme Trust research projects that have led to new insights into landscape change across Europe, the role of human population and climate as drivers of land cover change in the Mediterranean, and currently into the impacts of past land use on biodiversity in the British Isles. Ralph Fyfe has been Co-Investigator or Principal Investigator of these projects. He has made major contributions to the development of the open-access European Pollen Database, and has taken a leading role in the application of the REVEALS approach to quantify past land cover change across Europe.