Home / Colloquium: Bridging the cultural and biological histories of human populations – from local to global


Title: Bridging the cultural and biological histories of human populations – from local to global

Speaker: Chiara Barbieri, University of Zurich

Venue and Time: Zoom(Click here to enter the room. Meeting ID: 986 3682 7046, Password: 661295), 05.05.2020, Tuesday, at 13:00 s.t.


Interdisciplinary commitment is a prerequisite for anthropological studies, towards the challenging ultimate goal of bringing together the humanities and the biological sciences, through shared resources and vocabulary. To analyze the interaction between the biological and cultural spheres in humans, I start by combining the study of our genetic diversity (to reconstruct demographic changes and estimate present relatedness) with data from linguistics (to retrieve patterns associated with evolutionary dynamics and ecological constraints).
I present case-studies from South America which shed light on ancient and recent migrations and interactions, focusing on how genetics and linguistics can and should inform each other: in designing appropriate research questions, guiding analysis and interpretation of results, and bringing fresh perspectives to resolve competing hypotheses. Quechua is the most widespread language family of the Andes, but its diffusion and demographic impact are poorly understood. Here I bring genetics for the first time fully into the interdisciplinary analysis of Quechua’s (pre)history, looking at the interactions between its speakers and their neighbors. These localized cases from the Andes and neighboring regions provide a first framework to explore the potential and limitations of the gene-language comparison, which is then expanded to a systematic, global-scale analysis. This worldwide resolution begins by assembling the largest standardized panel of worldwide genetic diversity matched against linguistic, cultural and ecological data, designed to be utilized by different disciplines. Examples of research developed through contributions from human ecology and sociolinguistics are outlined. The systematic study of how gene/language histories do or do not intersect is the baseline of these research lines, which contribute to the study of cultural transmission and human evolution in a broad sense.