Molecular anthropology

Who, what, where and when

Peter K.A. Jensen is a clinical associate professor at the Institute of Human Genetics, University of Aarhus, will give a guest lecture about how anthropology, as well as other fields related to history, can use molecular genetics as a tool when mapping out the ancient migrational routes of man.

The lecture, which is held in Danish,  will take place at the University of Copenhagen at Amager (KUA), on 26 March 2009 at 1.15, room 23.0.50.

Everybody is welcome.

Short description of the topic

With the development of molecular genetics, especially within the past 25 years, anthropology has received a new and powerful tool.

Physical anthropology reconstructs the history of evolution by means of similarities and differences in morphology and behaviour while molecular anthropology focuses on similarities and differences in the human genome. Both methods have in common that a high level of similarity reflects near and close kinship (a common ancestor of a somewhat recent date), whereas great differences reflect remote kinship (a common ancestor in a distant past).

When people migrate, they bring their genes with them and pass them on to their descendants at their new abode. Hence, every contemporary ethnic group carries traces of its old roots. A common descent can be argued for, and migrations of ancient times can be traced and revealed through comparison of sequences of DNA from contemporary populations.

Mutations on the Y-chromosome and in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in particular are well suited for revealing the prehistoric migrations of mankind and for determining when the ways of our ancestors parted and when they came together. This is, above all, due to neither the Y-chromosome nor the mtDNA undergoing recombination at the time of the gametal creation. For that, and other, reasons, the Y-chromosome has preserved some extraordinarily long halo types characteristic of a limited geographical region. Hence it is possible, despite the possible presence of rather comprehensive blending, to reveal complex, demographic events. Likewise, it is possible to map out the ancient migrational routes of man and elucidate how agriculture has spread since the end of the previous Glacial Age. Finally, it is possible to reveal the historic and prehistoric paths that tie mankind together despite more or less obvious physical, cultural and geographical differences between contemporary ethnic groups.

>> Download the entire lecture as a PowerPoint-presentation

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