Science & Tech

Spotlight on the Dark Ages

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Professor launching interdisciplinary assault on early medieval period

“Medievalists are just beginning to be aware of the implications of the revolutions now occurring in the life sciences for the knowledge of the past,” says Michael McCormick, the Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History. “Ancient DNA has proven to be remarkably tough and, even though it is usually no longer completely intact, enough can survive to open up new windows to the past.” According to McCormick, some specialists have been able to establish kinship among people entombed in the same area of an early medieval cemetery. Others have used DNA evidence to distinguish wild from domesticated geese on Anglo-Saxon farmsteads, and thus illuminate the development of early agriculture and husbandry. Using a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which has chosen McCormick to receive one of its Distinguished Achievement Awards, McCormick is assembling a team of scholars to answer just such questions.