This chapter examines how ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis has helped reconstruct ancient history. It focuses in particular on cases investigating Roman history. History leaves traces in the human genome as well as those of pathogens and domesticates. While much can be gleaned from the genetic fossils preserved in extant genomes, genomes are palimpsests, with more recent events overwriting previous ones in part. The study of aDNA—DNA preserved in archaeological, paleontological, and museum sources—permits investigations into the genome before and after historic events and observations into how it evolves in real time. The field of aDNA also has a palimpsestic nature in which older results are not only extended and revised, but totally discarded due to rapid technological advances. The chapter briefly describes biochemistry of ancient DNA and the history of its research. Through several key case studies, it shows the potential for aDNA research to clarify the course of ancient history, and also highlights some of its weaknesses and limitations.
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