Digging up the past together

5 mars 2019

Hi there! Magnus Lundgren from the Department of Organismal Biology, who is coordinating the SciFest workshop “Dig into the past” with the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History:

You have a background as a researcher in microbiology at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology. But at SciFest, you’ll be representing the SciLifeLab National facility Ancient DNA and the Human Evolution research programme?

Researchers at the Ancient DNA Facility
are using genetic analysis, primarily of
skeletons, to unravel the prehistoric age. 
Here a part of the temporal bone from
a human skull.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“Yes, I’ve changed track from research leader to head of a lab that analyses DNA in archaeological material. It’s a national facility for researchers as well as museums and other users. Many archaeological digs for county administrative boards are done by private enterprises. In which case our help can be valuable for adding a layer of understanding to the material analysed."

"I usually equate it with carbon-14 dating, which once completely revolutionized how materials were dated. We now have yet another important scientific method in the form of genetic analysis. By extracting and studying molecules of DNA, we can find out so much more, such as the specific species that an animal belongs to, or the relationship of individuals to different ethnic groups.”

At SciFest, you and your fellow researchers will be bridging disciplinary domains and giving visitors the best of two worlds in your activities. What is the workshop "Dig into the past" actually about?

“We are going to have a joint workshop with archaeologists where children can come and do an archaeological dig. We will have a pallet collar in which we have hidden various objects that the children have to dig for. Then they can come to us for the “DNA analysis” of the material, and to the archaeologists to study ceramics, coins, tools, etc."

“To make the DNA analysis something that kids can do, we are going to write information on the objects that we hide using a UV pen. Then the kids will get to shine a UV lamp on the object to reveal the information about the object. This will be a representative and simplified version of a real DNA analysis.”

What do you hope that the children and other visitors who come to your workshop at SciFest will take home with them?

“An understanding of the important role that the sciences play in archaeology and also in understanding of history. These fields are not disconnected from the natural sciences; in fact what we are talking about here is a multidisciplinary field in which different fields of research enrich each other."

Magnus Lundgren.

“I also hope that they will gain a greater understanding of ancient history and the incredible mix of peoples that we are due to how much and how far humans have migrated. The notion that some sorts of people are linked to a specific geographical location quite simply does not reflect reality. People have always migrated, moved settlements, and mixed with others. So for example it isn’t possible to say that there is such a thing as a Swedish ethnic group. From a historical perspective, it isn’t possible to link a specific location to a specific ethnic group."

“These are absolutely central questions for understanding our distant past, and now we can answer them. Analysing ancient DNA has only really become mainstream in the past 5-10 years. And with more detailed analysis of materials that produces hard facts, we’re going to discover even more exciting information from a very long time ago.”

Read more:

Ancient DNA National facility

One of the researchers at the Ancient DNA facility and the Human Evolution research programme, Professor Mattias Jakobsson, recently participated in a Swedish Television mini-series entitled De första svenskarna (The first Swedes) about the mapping of the genomes of the first humans that came to Sweden.

SciFest Science Festival