Archaeological traces

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  • Mitochondrial DNA analysis: women and territorial mobility

Mitochondrial DNA analysis: women and territorial mobility

It has traditionally been thought that only men took part in the long journeys and migrations of the past. However, the development of new methods based on biomolecular and biochemical analyses of ancient human bones that are able to distinguish genders have led this androcentric paradigm to be questioned, as it has demonstrated that women did indeed participate in the migratory movements of the past.

Strontium isotope and DNA analyses of human remains are the most reliable archaeological methods for detecting the mobility patterns of ancient peoples. Strontium analysis of tooth enamel offers particularly significant information in this respect. This is because the strontium found in teeth is absorbed in infancy and remains throughout the life of the individual. Therefore, we can tell if a person died in the same place as they spent their childhood or whether they migrated to another area. 

Another method that allows us to analyse mobility patterns is the study of DNA. This is particularly important for analysing the mobility of women, especially the study of mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down through the mother. We have various studies of mitochondrial DNA for Phoenician and Carthaginian contexts in such areas as the Lebanon, Sardinia, Tunisia and the southern Iberian Peninsula. They show that Levantine women took part in the migratory movements that led to the formation of the Phoenician communities in the West. The results of these analyses also indicate that there was considerable interbreeding among these western communities, both with local women and others from diverse Atlantic and Mediterranean areas who had moved to these territories.  


The Pastwomen Network co-organizes the International Seminar "Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender Archaeology" at the University of Tübingen.

July 4-10, 2022

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