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An interdisciplinary approach to study the history of Early Medieval populations in Trentino-Alto Adige

​Early medieval times followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire, which marked the beginning of the Middle Ages of European history (from ~400 AD to ~1000 AD). Many Germanic tribes, with different origins, settled in Europe by intense migration events (Migration Period). In this context, some of these groups reached the Trentino-Alto Adige region from different parts of the territory (e.g. Franks and Baiuvarii, northwest; Longobards, south, as also Slavs, east). Indeed, this alpine area has always had a strategic territorial role as a meeting point between north and south Europe and as a contact zone for people of different origins and cultures.

Local historical and archaeological data indicate that the migratory flows were continuous and extended over time and that contacts between local and allochthonous groups led to the mutual exchanges of habits and traditions. However, the question of the biological diversity of peoples that actually populated the region during Early Middle Ages, is still under debate.  

With the interdisciplinary BioArchEM project, we aim to analyze several Early Medieval (400—1100 AD) individuals recovered from ten archaeological sites distributed in four valleys of Trentino-Alto Adige (Adige, Isarco, Venosta and Merano basin). We combine molecular, anthropological and isotopic data in order to answer the following questions: i) are the individuals coming from diverse sites and valleys genetically differentiated? ii) if so, is it possible to link these differences to their various origins? Further comparison with modern European populations from the supposed areas of origin can help to answer to this question iii) what are the genetic relationships between medieval alpine individuals and other European samples dated to the same period? Through the anthropological investigation, we reconstruct the biological profile of the individuals and we select the samples (petrous part of the temporal bone) for the genetic analysis. This includes a first molecular screening by shotgun sequencing that aims to estimate the percentage of endogenous DNA in the ancient samples. As a further step, the best preserved DNA samples will be analyzed for deep nuclear sequencing and for the enrichment and capture of the mitochondrial DNA. The Isotope analysis (δ13C, δ15N and δ34S) regards both, human and fauna samples recovered from the same archaeological sites. At last, the overall data will be discussed and interpreted in the light of archaeological and historical knowledges.

PERIOD: 01.03.2017 - 28.02.2020


TEAM: Frank Maixner, Alice Paladin


  • Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Bozen, Department of Archaeological Heritage
  • University of Bern, Department of Physical Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine

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