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It’s Getting Better All the Time: Comparative Perspectives from Oceania and West Africa on Genetic Analysis and Archaeology

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Abstract

Technological advances are making genetic data collection and analysis feasible on a scale unimaginable only a few years ago. Early genetic research using mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome provided important insights for macroscale modeling of regional and continent-wide population movements, but the capacity to study the entire genome now opens an era of finer-grained, mesoscale studies of regional and local population histories that are more compatible with the scale of archaeological analysis. The utility of integrating both types of data is illustrated by a case study from Oceania, where genetic studies were used to evaluate two models for the geographic origins of the populations that colonized Polynesia beginning ca. 3000 bp, bringing with them the distinctive Lapita cultural assemblage. A second case study considers the application of genetic studies to an understanding of Fulbe history, especially that of the pastoral Fulbe. Both archaeological and genetic data are underdeveloped for the key Fulbe homeland regions of Mauritania and Senegal, but recent research in the Middle Senegal Valley permits some conjectures on the history of Fulbe nomadic pastoralism. The article concludes with suggestions for a multidisciplinary research agenda to expand and upgrade the quality of relevant archaeological data, incorporate biodistance studies of human skeletal material, and improve and expand genetic sampling using more historically sensitive collection protocols.

Résumé

Les avancées technologiques permettent la collecte et l’analyse de données génétiques à une échelle inimaginable ne serait-ce qu’il y a quelques années. Les premières recherches génétiques utilisant l'ADN mitochondrial et le chromosome Y ont fourni des renseignements importants pour la modélisation à la macro-échelle des mouvements de population régionaux et continentaux. Mais la capacité d’étudier l’ensemble du génome ouvre maintenant une ère d’études plus précises à la méso-échelle—études de l’histoire des populations locales et régionales plus adaptées à l’échelle de l’analyse archéologique. L'utilité de l'intégration des deux types de données est illustrée par une étude de cas située en Océanie, où les études génétiques ont été utilisées pour évaluer les deux modèles sur l’origine des populations qui ont colonisé la Polynésie, dès 3000 ans BP et apporté avec eux l'ensemble culturel distinctif appelé Lapita. Une deuxième analyse examine l'application des études génétiques à une meilleure compréhension de l'histoire des Peuls (Fulbé), en particulier celle des Fulbé pastoralistes. Les données archéologiques et génétiques sont sous-développées pour les foyers de population Fulbe en Mauritanie et au Sénégal, mais des recherches récentes dans la vallée du Moyen-Sénégal permettent quelques hypothèses sur l'histoire du pastoralisme nomade Fulbe. L'article conclut avec des suggestions pour un programme de recherches multidisciplinaires destiné à élargir et améliorer la qualité des données archéologiques pertinentes, d'intégrer des études d’affinité biologique de matériel squelettique humain, et d'améliorer et d'élargir l'échantillonnage génétique en utilisant des protocoles de collection plus sensibles à la dimension historique.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Roger Blench and Scott MacEachern for reading a draft of this paper and making useful suggestions. In addition, we thank Jonathan S. Friedlaender, Françoise Friedlaender, and Janet Monge for helpful discussions.

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McIntosh, S.K., Scheinfeldt, L.B. It’s Getting Better All the Time: Comparative Perspectives from Oceania and West Africa on Genetic Analysis and Archaeology. Afr Archaeol Rev 29, 131–170 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-012-9122-z

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