European Research Council awards 10 million Euros to Institute for Advanced Study and other HistoGene partners for medieval cemetery study

The Institute for Advanced Study and its international partners have received a €10 million Synergy Grant from the European Research Council to fund a multidisciplinary study of more than 100 medieval cemeteries located across central and eastern Europe.

The project, HistoGenes, will seek to understand the impact of migrations and mobility on the population of the Carpathian Basin from 400–900 CE, based on an analysis of samples from 6,000 ancient burial sites. HistoGenes will unite historians, archaeologists, geneticists, anthropologists, and specialists in bioinformatics, isotope analysis, and other scientific methods in understanding this key period of European history.

The team’s four principal investigators, representing various disciplines, are Patrick Geary of the Institute for Advanced Study, Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Walter Pohl of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Austria, and Tivadar Vida of Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. The research team in the United States includes Krishna Veeramah, a population geneticist at Stony Brook University. Geary and Veeramah had previously led a pilot study that sequenced the genomes of entire ancient cemeteries to examine the relationship between the genetic background of these communities and the archaeological material left behind.

“The size of the grant will make possible an extraordinary advance in both our understanding of Europe’s population during a crucial historical period as well as in developing new procedures to integrate natural scientific and humanistic scholarship in a common effort,” said Geary, who is a professor emeritus at the Institute’s School of Historical Studies. “The early support for our pilot project, provided by the Institute, was crucial in demonstrating the feasibility of these new approaches, and thus paved the way for this award.”

The core objectives of the project are to explore the impact of mobility on early medieval populations, refine the methods of archaeogenetic research, and establish a multidisciplinary model for future research. The project fuses together cutting edge techniques in genetic testing with familiar archaeological and textual analysis to examine a half-millennium of migration and settlement in a crossroads region of Eurasia. European Research Council panel members said the project will push the study of human history in new directions.

Geary is a pioneer in applying the genomic revolution to obtain a deeper understanding of history. His most recent project studied the migration of European societies north and south of the Alps through the analysis of ancient DNA in Longobard-era cemeteries in Hungary and in Italy. Geary first joined IAS as a Member in the School of Historical Studies in 1990 and was appointed to the permanent faculty in 2012.

HistoGenes is among 37 research groups to receive funding from the European Research Council as part of its 2019 Synergy Grant competition, which supports the world’s top researchers to address complex research problems.