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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ancient DNA to solve mysteries about Poland's past

Exciting times are ahead for those of us with a passion for the genetic history of Poland. The newly formed Poznan Centre for Archaeogenomics (PCA) has just announced a major ancient DNA project to study the origins of the population of Greater Poland and Poland's earliest rulers, the Piast Dynasty.

Greater Poland, known as Wielkopolska in Polish, is located in Western Poland. This is where the Piast kingdom first emerged around 960AD, and then expanded to eventually become the Kingdom of Poland (see map below, from Wikipedia). So it's basically the cradle of the nation. Indeed, the present-day capital of Greater Poland, the city of Poznan, was the first capital of the Kingdom of Poland.

The main goals of the project are to test the level of genetic continuity in Greater Poland from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages (ie. either side of the so called Migration Period of the early Middle Ages), characterize the biogeographic origins of the Piast Dynasty, and compare the DNA of the early Polish ruling elite to that of the early peasants.

The work will be carried out over a five year period, and as far as I can tell from the source linked to below, the aim is to fully sequence as many genomes as possible from the hundreds of ancient skeletons stored at Polish museums and universities. That sort of resolution should make it possible to easily meet the project goals. The press release doesn't say where the sequencing will be done, but a state-of-the-art ancient DNA lab was launched in Poznan about a year ago, so that looks like the most likely place (see here).

It's probably an understatement to say that the origin of the first Slavic tribes on Polish territory is a major sticking point among Polish archeologists and historians. There are two main competing theories: a local Polish origin (the autochthonous theory) and a Pripet Marsh origin (the allochthonous theory). The ethnogenesis of the Piast Dynasty is also something of a mystery, with some scholars suggesting they were originally of Danish Viking stock. It'll be nice to finally see these issues resolved once and for all.


Nauka w Polsce: Naukowcy chcą zbadać pochodzenie Wielkopolan

See also...

First direct evidence of genetic continuity in West and Central Poland from the Iron Age to the present

Polish "Goths" enjoyed their millet, while Polish "Vikings" did not