Eske Willerslev Is Rewriting History With DNA

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_1957 May. 21 21.32As the director of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Dr. Willerslev uses ancient DNA to reconstruct the past 50,000 years of human history. The findings have enriched our understanding of prehistory, shedding light on human development with evidence that can’t be found in pottery shards or studies of living cultures.

Dr. Willerslev led the first successful sequencing of an ancient human genome, that of a 4,000-year-old Greenlander. His research on a 24,000-year-old Siberian skeleton revealed an unexpected connection between Europeans and Native Americans.

Dr. Willerslev was one of the early pioneers of the study of ancient DNA, and today he remains at the forefront of an increasingly competitive field. His colleagues credit his success to his relentless work and to his skill at building international networks of collaborators.

“His role is that of catalyst, choreographer, conductor and cajoler — and sometimes all at once,” said David J. Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University.

The scientific enterprise that Dr. Willerslev helped invent now sometimes crosses into culturally sensitive terrain.

More here.