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Kemp Lab of Molecular Anthropology and Ancient DNA


This collection features scholarly work by Brian M. Kemp, associate professor in the anthropology department at Washington State University. Dr. Brian M. Kemp is a molecular anthropologist with an expertise in the field of ancient human genetics. He earned his PhD in Anthropology in 2006 from the University of California-Davis and holds a BS degree in Anthropology/Zoology from the University of Michigan. He has been jointly appointed in the Department of Anthropology and the School of Biological Sciences at WSU since the fall of 2007.

Put broadly, the bulk of his research is focused on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosomal DNA variation in extant and prehistoric Native American populations. He uses these data to address questions about the entrance of humans into the Americas and the ensuing ~15,000 years of prehistory that are not approachable from culture history alone. In particular, he is interested in detecting parallels between the genetic and archaeological records, as signatures of past demographic shifts, population interactions, and population movements have been recorded in our genomes.

The ability to analyze DNA from ancient humans, animals, and plants (i.e. ancient DNA) opens up a tremendous potential for studying evolution. However, the potential of aDNA evidence is tempered by the challenging nature of its retrieval. In this case, another major focus of his research has been in improving methods for the recovery of genetic data from ancient remains, which has direct applicability to forensic science as well.

Most recently he has come to appreciate that one can reconstruct portions of ancient human behavior by observing the changes that humans had on the genetic composition of other species, the most common form of which is domestication. Moreover, ancient trash piles (i.e. what archaeologists refer to as middens) uncovered at archaeological sites represent treasure troves of genetic data concerning the plants and animals that were available at the time of occupation.

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