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Who were the migrants of the migratory period?

Last year, ten million euros were granted to the project, HistoGenes, to study the aDNA of 6000 individuals from AD 400-900. The project aims to explore physical heritage, the places people lived, their lifestyles, and their genetic admixture.

histogenes diagram
© Histogenes

For some years, an interdisciplinary project housed at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have studied the genetics of people buried in early medieval cemeteries in Hungary and Northern Italy. The aim has been to explore the aDNA of the “Lombards” as defined by their material culture in their graves in Hungary, and then trace their DNA in burials in Northern Italy.

This project has uncovered a multitude of interesting facts about early medieval people of diverse origin. Recently, the project was awarded a very significant sum of EU-money to carry these studies further. The plan is to analyse the DNA of 6000 individuals from the period between AD 400–900, study the isothopes to discover where they were born and where they lived out their lives, as well as characterise them physically as to age, health, and diet, and culturally according to their material culture.

The core objectives of the project are to explore the impact of mobility on early medieval populations, refine the methods of archaeo-genetic research, and establish a multidisciplinary model for future research.

The underlying agenda is to try and answer such questions as to where all the migrants mentioned in the historical sources of the 5thand 6thcenturies came from? If and how did they mix? Did they marry indigenously? Or were they exogamists? What form of material culture, if any, served to mark out the different groups? And how were local settlements organised? According to genetic influx? Or along social lines? In short: the project aims to once and for all lay to rest some of the questions, which have haunted the historians and archaeologists since the publication of the “Fall and decline of the Roman Empire” by Gibson in the 18thcentury. Did the migration period take place? Were there any migrants? Or were they all just figments of befuddled Roman minds?

The project is housed at the Östereichische Akademie de Wissenschaften. Institut für Mittelalterforschung. (IMAFO) and led by four principal investigators: Tivadar Vida (Budapest), Walter Pohl (Vienna), Patrick Geary (Princeton) and Johannes Krause (Jena)


10 million Euro ERC Synergy Grant awarded for study of medieval populations

HistoGenes at IMAFO