Genes, Isotopes and Artefacts: how should we interpret the movements of people throughout Bronze Age Europe?

13–14 December 2018, Vienna

by Katharina Heiß (, Paul Klostermann (, David Niaghi (, Jennifer Portschy ( and Lisa Reicher (

Genes, Isotopes and Artefacts was organised by Benjamin Roberts, Claudio Cavazzuti (Department of Archaeology, Durham University) and Katharina Rebay-Salisbury (Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Austrian Academy of Sciences) and supported by the Fritz Thyssen foundation, the Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology and by the ERC-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship EX SPACE and ERC Starting Grant VAMOS, The value of mothers to society. The conference took place in the Theatersaal of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Sonnenfelsgasse 19, 1010 Vienna on the 13th and 14th of December, 2018.

The principal purpose of the conference was to bring leading scientist together to shed a light on Bronze Age mobility in all its variations and at multiple scales. Using modern methods such as isotope analysis and genomic sequencing, along with more traditional methods such as artefact typology, research teams are tackling similar questions with different but complementary approaches. Therefore, the projects that were represented are a reflection of the interdisciplinary character of early 21st century archaeology. Additionally, the conference provided a forum for discussion and networking, which should lead to future scientific advancement.

The program included 18 lectures from scholars from across Europe, Russia and Australia divided into four sessions. It was well attended, with over 100 participants from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. After a short introduction by the organisers, the first session presentations mostly dealt with the impact of immigration from the Steppe to the west (e.g. Svend Hansen et al. ,Ron Pinhasi et al.). A major focus of the first day was on biological aspects of genetics and diseases, developed with various case studies. One highlight was when Martin Sikora from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark explained how they managed to track down the origin, spread and genealogy of pathogens through the analysis of ancient DNA. In this context, Kristian Kristiansen summarized the relationship between migration, genes and viruses in the light of the Indo-European expansion.

The second session started with John T. Koch applying the new genetic knowledge of Bronze Age populations to the dispersion of the European languages, evaluating the Steppe Hypothesis and integrating the new data into the language family tree. In the next presentation, the Momentum Mobility Research Group demonstrated their holistic approach to understand the first 1000 years of the Bronze Age in the central Carpathian Basin revealing partly gruesome aspects of mobility in form of massacre sites. Barry Molloy showed his preliminary results using aDNA and isotope analysis to examine the Dorian invasion and attempt to illuminate the complex migration processes in that time of heightened conflict. Catherine Frieman followed with a critique including her objection to oversimplification and established her own model of innovation and technology flow for mobile societies. One of the most memorable presentations of the conference was given by Mario Gavranović. After starting out by portraying the diverse archaeological phenomenon of the Balkan in the second millennium BC, he illustrated the political abuse of archaeology in the Balkan conflict. This sparked a discussion emphasising the importance of awareness that archaeology and their new technological developments can have political implications and that researchers have a responsibility to implement informed discussion.

During the morning session of day two the population level analysis of the comprehensive genetic projects of the first day where enhanced by the perspective of personal mobility. Karin Margarita Frei impressively showed the scope of Bronze Age mobility via case studies from Denmark, while Katharina Rebay-Salisbury asked interesting questions about social structures and gender-specific mobility of Austrian populations in the Danube valley. Natalia Shishlina presented a project investigating the seasonal mobility in the Steppe and shifts of modes of subsistence using isotopes. Another lecture on mobility patterns and social permeability in the Bronze Age Po plain, showing interesting connections between location, gender, social status and mobility, was given by Claudio Cavazutti and his team. Picking up on the word “artefacts” in the title of this conference, Andrea Cardarelli and Alberta Arena spoke about their artefact-based approach to better understand the rise and fall of the Terramare culture; the aim of their work is to set the Terramare phenomenon into a broader geographical context.

The afternoon session started off with Corina Knipper demonstrating the work of her and her team on female exogamy, patrilocality and social stratification during the transitional period between the Final Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Their multi-disciplinary approach was primarily based on aDNA to map generations and relationships in combination with stable-isotope analysis, 14C dating and the archaeological analysis of the hamlets. Peter Clark from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust discussed maritime technology and social mobility in the Transmanche zone during the 2nd millennium BC. In particular, he focused on the mechanisms that enabled close relationships between both sides of the English Channel. Marc Vander Linden from the University of Cambridge provided some ideas on the scale of human mobility during the British Bronze Age up for discussion. By combining strontium isotope, aDNA and archaeological data, he drew a picture of the British Bronze Age with a focus on identification, description and the role of population history in the earlier stages and the Bell Beaker Phenomenon. Benjamin W. Roberts and Miljana Radivojević ended the conference with some insights on Eurasian metallurgy networks.

To conclude, this conference gave an extensive overview of current research approaches to genetics and isotope analysis in archaeology. The interdisciplinary case studies demonstrated the powerful results that technological innovations can yield for historic sciences and humanities.

Abstracts of the contributions are available in the OREA events archive. Some speakers have agreed to be filmed. Their talks are available at the OREA News YouTube channel.

Fig.: Participants in the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Theatersaal (© OREA, Foto: Felix Ostmann)

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Report on the European Year of Cultural Heritage Closing Conference, 6-7 December 2018, Vienna

by Roderick B. Salisbury (TEA Editor, European Association of Archaeologists,

The European Year of Cultural Heritage culminated in the #EuropeForCulture closing conference held in Vienna, Austria on 6–7 December 2018. Organized in collaboration with the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Commission, the conference discussed the legacy of the EYCH, and how to maintain the momentum built up through over 11,500 events. In addition, it highlighted successful projects from around Europe.

Thursday, 6 December was dedicated to “Discover your cultural heritage”, a discovery tour of heritage in the city of Vienna. After a welcome ceremony at the Imperial Palace, 12 themed stations could be explored through one of five coloured routes (pink, blue, purple, yellow and green). The routes were of different walking distances, with each option visiting three of the 12 stations. We (your TEA editors) took the Green route. Our first stop was the Palmenhaus where we explored “Traditional handicraft: Reviving the ancient” organized by the Austrian Federal Monuments Authority (BDA) Center for Information and Training, and the European Heritage Academy (Fotos). This station gave visitors the chance to learn about and participate in traditional crafts techniques used to restore and maintain buildings and monuments. Bricks were being made, paint was stripped from old window frames, a stone sculptor worked a piece of sandstone, stucco was made and used to cover architectural pieces.

The second station was “From initial idea to breaking ground”. Organized by LandLuft, an association for the promotion of Baukultur in rural areas, this event provided us with some refreshments in a local pub while role-playing the diversity of people, opinions and needs involved in the development of the built environment. We were slightly surprised to find that heritage professionals were not among the roles. “Ear cracker: a musical experiment” took us to the Wiener Konzerthaus, where we experienced the same musical piece twice. The Trio Catch played the “Catch Sonata” by Gérard Pesson, then explained the composition and gave tips on listening and interpreting, and then played it again, with the intent that we would “hear it with whole new ears” following their explanation. This station was organized by the Wiener Konzerthaus, a member of the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO); the trio are former members of the ECHO “Rising Stars” programme. In the evening there was a Reception hosted by the Federal Chancellery at the Imperial Palace with a presentation of the Cultural Gems app by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

Fotos: Traditional handicrafts at the Palmenhaus in Vienna (© Katharina Rebay-Salisbury)

Friday’s Closing Conference was held at the Austria Center Vienna, and started very much on time. Plenary sessions were displayed on a jumbo screen behind the speakers, and headsets were provided to access translations into English, French and German. Welcome speeches were given by Gernot Blümel, Austrian Federal Minister for EU, Arts, Culture and Media; Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport; and Petra Kammerevert, European Parliament Chair of Committee on Culture and Education. Highlights from the welcome included the importance of bringing people together, and recognizing the contributions of other cultures to our heritage. These observations by Gernot Blümel echoed points made by EAA members in a Forum at the SAA in Washington DC in 2018. Gernot Blümel also asked what goes on from this year; what can keep us together? and answered his own question - Culture! Another answer to what happens next year was given by Tibor Navracsics, who said that momentum will be maintained by a policy framework of 60 actions to be implemented in a European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage, organized into five areas for action:

  • Cultural heritage for an inclusive Europe: participation and access for all
  • Cultural heritage for a sustainable Europe: smart solutions for a cohesive and sustainable future
  • Cultural heritage for a resilient Europe: safeguarding endangered heritage
  • Cultural heritage for an innovative Europe: mobilising knowledge and research
  • Cultural heritage for stronger global partnerships: reinforcing international cooperation

These were followed by the Keynote lecture "Europe’s Cultural Heritage – Past, Present and Future", by Peter Frankopan, Professor of Universal History of the University of Oxford, UK. Among other insights, the keynote reminded us of the importance of our shared history. Our European history is a story of who we are, and substantially influences how we think about the past. It is good that we celebrate our different foods, climates, languages, arts, and other aspects of cultural heritage. However, we must be aware that we are not natural collaborators, yet we must collaborate. Therefore, we must think of ways to combine our cultural experiences and leverage them to bring people together, and keep people together.

After the keynote, a reflection panel discussed the role of culture for society. The panel participants came from various perspectives and presented possible interventions of cultural policies for the promotion of heritage governance and democratic participation. Participants included:

  • Petra Kammerevert, European Parliament, Chair of Committee on Culture and Education
  • Peter Frankopan, Professor of Universal History of the University of Oxford, UK
  • Amareswar Galla, Executive Director, International Institute of the Inclusive Museum, DK
  • Hermann Vaske, Filmmaker, Author, Producer and Professor at the University of Applied Arts and Sciences in Trier, DE
  • Gerfried Stocker, Artistic and Managing Director, Ars Electronica Linz, AT
  • Corinne Szteinsznaider, Executive Committee Member Culture Action Europe

 The Reflection Panel focused on the need to rethink the European Project. One way to achieve this is through reframing our focus on the concept of "inreach". Presented as an alternative to outreach, inreach takes from a diverse pool of culture, institutions, ideas and opportunities to be inclusive. Inclusivity is essential for bringing people together.

Also of importance to the discussion was how to achieve the unifying goals of this EYCH, this conference, and this panel. Responses included striving for 'active engagement', and being 'dynamic', 'pluralistic' and 'plurilogic'. These buzzwords are, of course, valid responses, but real world implementation most likely arises from the Framework for Action presented by Navracsics.

The afternoon comprised three parallel session and a series of less formal "Meet-ups". The sessions were about “What will remain from the EYCH?”, and included:

  • Responsibility for cultural heritage: the youth’s role
  • Cultural Heritage and sustainable development
  • Facing the challenges of cultural heritage

 The meet-ups were in succession, with some thematic overlap with the sessions, so I followed these. The first two were affiliated with EU Open Method of Coordination (OMC) working groups. The first meet-up was "Skills, training and knowledge transfer: traditional and emerging heritage professions". This was very interesting in that the group recognized weaknesses that were also identified during the EAA Barcelona 2018 President Lunch: education gaps, no official policy to promote crafting or other skills required for heritage preservation, and lack of community engagement associated with poor communication. Responses to these include a need for increased education and training, life-long learning, and knowledge transfer - also echoing responses from the 2018 EAA meeting.

The second was "Sustainable Cultural Tourism", also an OMC group. One key point that emerged from this is that sustainable cultural tourism is still being defined, and of course varies from place to place and between types of culture. Ideas such as 'Quality standards for EU interventions on tangible cultural heritage’ are under development. EAA should be involved in this process, particularly in terms of sustainability and archaeological heritage sites. The final meet-up was the presentation of a case study "The Impact of Cultural Heritage" by Harry Verwayen, Executive Director of the Europeana Foundation.

The conference ended with a closing session comprising a four person panel. Discussant reflected on the EYCH and its legacy, with more talk about sustainability, both in terms of sustainable tourism in cities and in rural areas, identifying these as having different stakeholders, different kinds of heritage tourists, and different physical and logistical requirements. Food was brought up, as a form of cultural heritage that can also support biodiversity, enhancing both sustainability and quality of life. Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović of Europa Nostra presented the Berlin Call, noting 2000 signatories. TEA notes that this is not a terribly large number, as it is less than the number of archaeologists attending the EAA 2018 Annual Meetings in Barcelona.

The European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 was an eventful celebration of the importance of cultural heritage and the ways in which heritage can help reflect the past and build bridges for the future. Look for more about this topic in forthcoming issues of TEA.

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