What are the biggest trends in the field now?
One is the emergence of humankind –hominins and Homo sapiens– which is a focus of great interest, and then the distribution of Homo sapiensfrom Africa and West Asia to Europe. Another aspect is that we are genuinely learning more and more about different parts of the world so you can study the development of complex society in China, in Mesoamerica or South America. And then a lot of people have specific area interests, for example if you live in the United States then you’re likely to be interested in Native North Americans. Finally, there are always new surprises in each field and new elaborations. For example, in Mesoamerica new lost cities are still being discovered. There’s nothing more Romantic than a lost city!
A further trend to add is the effects of changes in climate, not just on a global level, but the local, such as thinking about which crops are going to do well in a certain region. So that’s part of the fascination of archaeology – it intersects with the technical ways in which we establish how climate has changed, but also investigates the impacts of climate change. That’s one of the wonders of archaeology: it is legitimately concerned with all these different aspects and has contributions to make to them.
Where do you think the field is going in the next 5-10 years?
It’s very difficult to sum this up. The pace of discovery remains really impressive and new major sites are being discovered in different parts of the world. I also think the understanding of archaeology by people at large is developing. In different countries of the world there remains real interest in the progress of archaeology, and new site museums are being built across the world. I’m rather impressed by the site museum in Liangzhu in China, west of Shanghai. Liangzhu is a fascinating early town site with lots of wonderful jades and mysterious symbolism that will fascinate you. The development of complex society remains one of the underlying themes in any part of the world; it’s exemplified in different ways, so that’s something that continues to fascinate.
The new edition of Archaeology has a lot of new information on ancient DNA. How do you think this research has affected the field?
It’s been rather surprising. Obviously, I think the origins of humankind is particularly interesting and it’s here that ancient DNA research continues to surprise us. More recently I think we have been surprised at the extent of which the dispersals that Marija Gimbutas argued for, have been to a large extent substantiated by DNA, much more than anyone expected. Ancient DNA, when talking about Asia to Europe, has been documenting the significance of movements of population. Of course, there are major migrations elsewhere, with the first peopling of the Americas and so on, that was always advocated much before DNA was even understood. Humankind originated in Africa, and then Homo sapiensmigrated out of Africa and came to the Americas across the Bering Straits, and this is being documented in much greater detail, in a very satisfying way. DNA of modern populations was sound enough, but it is very interesting that these ancient dispersals are now being documented in very good detail through Ancient DNA. It really is exciting.