Article open access publication

Reconciling material cultures in archaeology with genetic data requires robust cultural evolutionary taxonomies

Palgrave Communications, Springer Nature, ISSN 2055-1045

Volume 5, 1, 2019

DOI:10.1057/s41599-019-0260-7, Dimensions: pub.1115915812,


Riede, Felix * (1)

* Corresponding author



  1. (1) Aarhus University, grid.7048.b, AU
  2. (2) University College London, grid.83440.3b



United Kingdom




The analysis of ancient genomes is having a major impact on archaeological interpretations. Yet, the methodological divide between these disciplines is substantial. Fundamentally, there is an urgent need to reconcile archaeological and genetic taxonomies. However, traditional archaeological taxonomies are problematic because they are epistemologically weak and often laden with undue assumptions about past ethnicity and demography—they are a hindrance rather than a help in such a reconciliation. Eisenmann and colleagues have recently tackled this issue, offering a palette of potential solutions that circumvents traditional archaeological culture labels. We welcome renewed attention to nomenclature but take issue with such recent work that favours systems of taxonomic assignment for genomic groups that either do not include archaeological information at all or retain traditional cultural taxonomic categories. While superficially pragmatic, these administrative solutions do not address the substantive issues that the topic raises. We here present the argument that the only analytically viable solution to aligning genetic and cultural nomenclature is to conceptualise material culture as underwritten by a system of information transmission across generations that has similar structural properties to the genetic system of information transmission. This alignment facilitates the use of similar analytical protocols and hence allows for a true parallel analysis. Once culture change is also understood as an evolutionary process, a wealth of analytical methods for reconciling archaeological and genetic clusters becomes available.


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