The analysis of ancient DNA is a key method in our project. We will apply aDNA analysis to get more information on two crucial questions:
First, we would like to find out of girl and boy babies were valued and treated differently from birth. When babies are born, their biological sex is obvious in most cases. Some societies respond to this by treating babies in a gendered way from birth. For example by dressing them in pink or blue – I am totally guilty as I like blue and most of my boy’s stuff is blue! For other societies they are first and foremost babies and the biological sex becomes important only later on. We will therefore look at baby burials and assess their treatment after death, the location of burial and their grave goods. Unfortunately it is very difficult to determine the sex of babies and children on morphological criteria alone, and this is where aDNA analysis can help.
Second, we would like to clarify if adults buried with children were in fact related. It is often assumed that a woman and a baby in one grave together are mother and child, but this is by no means certain. Babies and small children may be added to graves when they died close to one another, for reasons of convenience or because they needed to be symbolically protected by an adult. aDNA analysis can clarify the genetic relationship between these individuals, using similar methods to paternity tests. The degradation of ancient samples in the soil, however, makes this a little more challenging.
We are very lucky to collaborate with Walther Parson and his outstanding team of DNA experts at the Institute of Legal Medicine, Innsbruck Medical University. Walther is an internationally renowned expert and takes on prominent cases. He even advises the FBI. He was involved in international projects like the DNA identification of the Asian Tsunami-victims from Sri Lanka, the DNA identification of the remains of the two missing children of the Russian Tsar family or historical cases including the investigations on the putative Mozart skull and the Friedrich von Schiller Code.
He has just published the book Irgendwann kommt alles ans Licht (Eventually all comes to light) aimed at a general audience. It will be presented in the Federal Criminal Police Office in Vienna on December 1st 2014. I am very much looking forward to this event!