Last September, Aeon published a useful essay by science writer Jacob Mikanowski, touching on many of the ways that ancient DNA is changing the way we look at ancient population movements: “Origins: Paleogenetics is helping to solve the great mystery of prehistory: how did humans spread out over the earth?”
Mikanowski hits upon a big theme:
Before the Second World War, prehistory was seen as a series of invasions, with proto-Celts and Indo-Aryans swooping down on unsuspecting swaths of Europe and Asia like so many Vikings, while megalith builders wandered between continents in indecisive meanders. After the Second World War, this view was replaced by the processual school, which attributed cultural changes to internal adaptations. Ideas and technologies might travel, but people by and large stayed put. Today, however, migration is making a comeback.
If there is one overarching finding from these ancient DNA studies, it is that many prehistoric archaeological transitions really did involve the large-scale mass migration of groups of people.