M.A. Theses: Alexa Walker, 2015


Ancient Human DNA Research in North America and Abroad: Challenges and Opportunities



The field of ancient DNA has revolutionized the way in which archaeologists and anthropologists investigate the lives of ancient people. However, there is a growing awareness that genetic research has important and diverse implications for people living today. These considerations are of particular importance for Indigenous peoples for whom genetic pronouncements about identity and ancestry may have important social, cultural, and political consequences. This thesis addresses these complex issues through three sources of information: an examination of the current literature on genetic research involving modern populations and how this translates to the context of ancient DNA; a review of ancient DNA studies involving eight archaeological individuals found in British Columbia; and a survey completed by 47 ancient DNA researchers working around the world. The results of this tripartite study suggest that ancient DNA researchers face an array of social, ethical, and political challenges that differ significantly depending on the geographic location of their study. The unique needs, interests, and values of descendant communities situated around the world, and with whom the survey respondents interact, are important factors to consider when interpreting this difference. Three recommendations are provided along with relevant resources to assist researchers in navigating the challenges of ancient DNA research and to create opportunities for a more equitable and collaborative investigation of the human past.

Keywords:     Ancient DNA; genetics; bioarchaeology; ethics; survey; British Columbia; North America