Maybe They Couldn’t Hold Their Breaths for 40 days and 40 Nights?

Posted by Chris Parker
May 16 2006


Climate change may be key to 10,000-year-old mystery – University of Alberta leads investigation into disappearance of ancient people. 

OTTAWA, May 16 /CNW Telbec/ – Today, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) announced an investment of $2.5 million in a research project that will investigate the link between climate change, human genetics and the disappearance of an entire culture from the Boreal forest region of Siberia between 7,000 and 6,000 BC.

With the help of DNA analysis, radiocarbon dating and climate modeling, University of Alberta professor Andrzej Weber will lead an international team of scholars in examining 10,000 to 5000-year-old human remains from ancient cemeteries in the Lake Baikal region of Russia.

The group will then use this evidence to reconstruct the daily lives, cultural traditions and local environment of the hunter-gatherers who once lived there. “Thanks to previous funding from SSHRC, we know there is about a 1,200 year gap in history where the people living in this region just seemed to disappear,” said Weber. “We are now trying to figure out what caused them to leave, and whether the groups who appeared more than 1,000 years later were genetically and culturally related to the first.”

One possible key, says Weber, is a long-ago shift in climate that-together with social and economic factors-caused a dramatic change in the ancient people’s culture, diet and migration patterns.

To put all the pieces of this giant puzzle together, Weber has assembled a team of 29 anthropology, archaeology, geography, genetics and climate experts from universities in Russia, Britain, Canada and the United States. With the help of more than 50 graduate students, excavations of the cemetery sites will begin this summer and the unearthed samples will be sent to Canadian laboratories for analysis.

“This project will provide Canadian students with a unique training experience, and shine a bright light on the high quality of social sciences and humanities research taking place at our universities,” said Stan Shapson, interim president of SSHRC. “It will also build new understanding of Canada’s own ancient Aboriginal peoples, and contribute to the contemporary debate surrounding the effects of climate change on human culture.”

Weber’s project was funded through SSHRC’s Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRI) program after a rigorous, independent peer-review process, which ensures only the best research proposals receive funding. The MCRI program is recognized internationally as a powerful way to get universities working together on research that has important social, economic and cultural impacts on society.


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