Conferencia: Biohistorical Anthropology: DNA and Bones in Cultures of Remembrance

Conference – October, 8 to 9, 2010 – University of Zurich (KO2-F-152)


The conference addresses the ‘genomic revolution’ in anthropology and history, and the new meanings human remains have acquired in diverse cultures of remembrance. The scientific projects concerned with the reconstruction of kinship and history on the basis of genetic technologies and DNA-sequences affect human populations globally. While such research may mean disempowerment of research subjects, genetic knowledge about group history and identity has also become part of political movements for recognition. Some groups even actively search the service of population genetics – a service that has on the individual level been commercialized in genetic ancestry tracing companies.

Like DNA, bones serve as ‘carriers of history’ in locally and historically specific cultures of remembrance. Human bones may be interpreted as the remains of national and/or ethnic founders and ancestors. Beginning in the 1980s, ‘on the eve of globalization’, the so-called reburial issue was in full swing and concerned officials in museums and other institutions in the US, Australia, and beyond. Neo-indigenous organizations, first-nation movements, and subaltern or marginalized groups around the globe are reclaiming ancestral bones to found a historical narrative and to claim rights of belonging. This brings to the fore the fact that the meaning of bones – as well as of DNA – is polyvalent in both western and non-western cultures; they are “things” with “social lives”.
The conference encourages discussion about these topical issues and allows insights into their histories. Different disciplinary approaches and historical and geographical foci are brought together with the aim to gain insights into the complexities through which ‘DNA’ and bones become carriers of historical memory.

SNF-Professor Marianne Sommer (Hist. Department, University of Zurich) and Prof. Dr. Gesine Krüger (Hist. Department, University of Zurich)

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