MSU faculty member’s work featured in Science clarifies archaeological hypotheses, impacts on human civilizations

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Anna Osterholz (OPA Photo)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State Associate Professor Anna Osterholz is part of a team of scientists featured in an ongoing trio of articles in Science — the flagship journal for researchers published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science — about their research linking genetic data and linguistic movement as people migrated through early civilizations.

“Understanding these population movements will help contextualize archaeological and bioarchaeological analysis,” Osterholz said. “The scale and time depth of this study make it very important for future work in understanding how cultural interactions can be reflected in changes in both language and the physical body.”

To read the entire trio of articles, visit https://www.science.org/journal/science.

Collaborating with scientists representing research institutes and universities in the US, Europe and West Asia, and working on their research since 2017, Osterholz said she was “thrilled to be able to contribute to such a large-scale study that looks at the migration of peoples across the landscape.”

“We provided samples from two different sites in Croatia,” said Osterholz. “First, from the Bronze Age site of Gusila Gomila II (1880-1650 BC), in collaboration with Dr. Helena Thomas of the University of Zagreb. And also, the Roman-era cemeteries in the city of Trogir (1st-6th century AD), in collaboration with Lujana Paraman from the City Museum of Trogir and Dr. Mario Novak from the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb .”

The trio of papers in Science deal with some of the earliest civilizations in the “Southern Arc,” a geographic region that stretches from the Caucasus and the Levant, through Anatolia and the Aegean to the Balkans, forming a bridge between Europe and Asia, where they formed and spread various ancient human cultures.

Osterholz’s research shows that these cultures, whether lost to history or surviving to the present day, are not only the heritage of the people of the region, but have had a profound impact on human civilization as a whole.

“Currently, our knowledge of the people of many of these cultures, their movements, mating patterns and languages ​​is fragmented,” according to the journal articles. “Paleogenetic studies can shed new light on the lifestyles of people in past societies and the spread and diversification of their languages.”

The researchers report genome-wide data from 727 different ancient individuals—more than doubling the amount of ancient DNA data from this region and filling major gaps in the paleogenetic record—and present a systematic picture of the interconnected histories of the peoples of this region from the origins of agriculture to the late Middle Ages. .

The research team is led by Ron Pinhasi from the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and Human Evolution and Archaeological Sciences at the University of Vienna; Songül Alpaslan-Roodenberg at the University of Vienna and Harvard University; and Joseph Lazaridis and David Reich of Harvard University.

Songül Alpaslan-Roodenberg said the findings are examples of “how archaeogenetic results can provide a missing layer of information that cannot be obtained from other sources.”

Osterholtz acknowledges MSU’s Cobb Institute of Archaeology, the Department of Anthropology and Near Eastern Cultures, and the College of Arts and Sciences for financial support.

A member of the AMEC faculty since 2016, Osterholtz specializes in bioarchaeology. She has developed research programs in Cyprus and Croatia. Her current research in Cyprus examines the interaction between Mediterranean populations during the Bronze Age and the creation of Cypriot identity.

Part of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, complete information about the AMEC department is available at www.amec.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s flagship university, also available online at www.msstate.edu.

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