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At first, it served as a tomb for some three dozen men, women and children.
“That’s a little bit irritating.”This isn’t the first time archaeologists have had to contend with transformative technology.
“The study of prehistory today is in crisis,” wrote Cambridge archaeologist Colin Renfrew in his 1973 book Before Civilization, describing the impact of radiocarbon dating.
Seeing the future of the field before his eyes, Kristiansen asked Willerslev to team up on a prestigious European Research Council grant that would allow them to examine human mobility as the late Neolithic gave way to the Bronze Age, some 4,000–5,000 years ago.
Association problems Migration has been a major source of tension for archaeologists.
But last year, reports started circulating that seemed to challenge this picture of stability.
A study analysing genome-wide data from 170 ancient Europeans, including 100 associated with Bell Beaker-style artefacts, suggested that the people who had built the barrow and buried their dead there had all but vanished by 2000 .Before the technique was developed by chemists and physicists in the 1940s and 50s, prehistorians determined the age of sites using ‘relative chronologies’, in some cases relying on ancient Egyptian calendars and false assumptions about the spread of ideas from the Near East.“Much of prehistory, as written in the existing textbooks is inadequate: some of it, quite simply wrong,” Renfrew surmised.The artefacts offer a view of those visitors and their relationship with the wider world.Changes in pottery styles there sometimes echoed distant trends in continental Europe, such as the appearance of bell-shaped beakers — a connection that signals the arrival of new ideas and people in Britain.It wasn’t an easy changeover — early carbon-dating efforts were off by hundreds of years or more — but the technique eventually allowed archaeologists to stop spending most of their time worrying about the age of bones and artefacts and focus instead on what the remains meant, argues Kristian Kristiansen, who studies the Bronze Age at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.“Suddenly there was a lot of free intellectual time to start thinking about prehistoric societies and how they are organized.” Ancient DNA now offers the same opportunity, says Kristiansen, who has become one of his field’s biggest cheerleaders for the technology., in 1985, reported sequences from an Egyptian mummy (now thought to be contamination).“Pots are pots, not people,” goes a common refrain.Most archaeologists have since cast aside the view that prehistory was like a game of Risk, in which homogenous cultural groups conquer their way across a map of the world.They are concerned by sweeping DNA studies that they say make unwarranted, and even dangerous, assumptions about links between biology and culture.“They give the impression that they’ve sorted it out,” says Marc Vander Linden, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, UK.