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ERC project: Waves of history in the South Pacific: A gene-culture coevolutionary approach (Waves)

The ERC Starting Grant-funded project Waves (Waves of history in the South Pacific: A gene-culture coevolutionary approach) draws together data and methods from genetics, archaeology, cultural evolution and historical linguistics to build an integrated population history of the South Pacific.

Modern humans have colonized every possible ecological niche, with the latest expansions being those into the remote islands of the South Pacific. This success has been underpinned both by genetic adaptations to new ecological conditions and by an ever-accumulating store of technological and cultural knowledge gained through social learning. Our dual inheritance systems of genetics and culture interact in unique and unexpected ways, making human history vastly more difficult to infer than for any other species. The emerging field of gene-culture coevolution promises to provide a cohesive framework for modeling the interplay of genes and culture, and will revolutionize our understanding of human historical processes. The Waves project is building the tools necessary to establish gene-culture coevolution in the genomic-era, extending cutting-edge population genetic techniques – including spatial simulation – and allowing the natural integration of data from across genomics, archaeogenetics, archaeology and historical linguistics (Figure 1).

We focus on the South Pacific, a region where past demography remains largely unresolved. While the population history of this region is relatively short it appears extremely complex, comprising not only multiple waves of colonization but also the existence of wide and ongoing interaction spheres through which both seafaring peoples and their cultures maintained long-distance connections. By generating comprehensive new ancient genome-wide datasets across Near and Remote Oceania – and analyzing them alongside present-day genomic, historical linguistic and cultural data – the Waves project will create the first unified gene-culture coevolutionary history of the South Pacific.

The team

PIDr Adam Powell, HBEC, MPI-EVA
PhD studentsMatej Kriznar, HBEC, MPI-EVA
Selina Carlhoff, Department of Archaeogenetics (DAG), MPI-SHH (supervised with Prof. Johannes Krause)
Lab technicianRita Radzeviciute, DAG, MPI-SHH
CollaboratorsProfessor Johannes Krause, Director DAG, MPI-SHH
Dr Cosimo Posth, Research Group Leader, DAG, MPI-SHH
Kathrin Nägele, PhD student, DAG, MPI-SHH
Dr Frederique Valentin, Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, CNRS, UMR 7041, Nanterre
Dr Stuart Bedford, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU
Professor Hallie Buckley, Department of Anatomy,University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Dr Rebecca Kinaston, Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Professor Lluis Quintana-Murci, Director, Unit of Human Evolutionary Genetics, Institut Pasteur, Paris
Dr Richard Shing, Director, Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS), Port Vila, Vanuatu
Dr Heidi Colleran, IMPRG Leader, MPI-EVA


Fogarty, L., Ammar, M., Holding, T., Powell, A., & Kandler, A. (2022). Ten simple rules for principled simulation modelling. PLoS Computational Biology, 18(3): e1009917.
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Carlhoff, S., Duli, A., Nägele, K., Nur, M., Skov, L., Sumantri, I., Oktaviana, A. A., Hakim, B., Burhan, B., Syahdar, F. A., McGahan, D. P., Bulbeck, D., Perston, Y. L., Newman, K., Saiful, A. M., Ririmasse, M., Chia, S., Hasanuddin, Pulubuhu, D. A. T., Suryatman, Supriadi, Jeong, C., Peter, B. M., Prüfer, K., Powell, A., Krause, J., Posth, C., & Brumm, A. (2021). Genome of a middle Holocene hunter-gatherer from Wallacea. Nature, 596, 543-547.
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Posth, C., Nägele, K., Colleran, H., Valentin, F., Bedford, S., Gray, R. D., Krause, J., & Powell, A. (2019). Response to “Ancient DNA and its contribution to understanding the human history of the Pacific Islands” (Bedford et al. 2018). Archaeology in Oceania, 54, 57-61.
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Posth, C., Nägele, K., Colleran, H., Valentin, F., Bedford, S., Kami, K. W., Shing, R., Buckley, H., Kinaston, R., Walworth, M., Clark, G. R., Reepmeyer, C., Flexner, J., Maric, T., Moser, J., Gresky, J., Kiko, L., Robson, K. J., Auckland, K., Oppenheimer, S. J., Hill, A. V. S., Mentzer, A. J., Zech, J., Petchey, F., Roberts, P., Jeong, C., Gray, R. D., Krause, J., & Powell, A. (2018). Language continuity despite population replacement in Remote Oceania. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2(4), 731-740.
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