Effective communication among researchers requires a common vocabulary.
The goal of this paper is to address these issues of terminology and to make some suggestions about naming conventions researchers can choose to use in order to facilitate discussions across fields.
A particularly striking instance of this is given by two ancient DNA papers published in 2015 by Haak et al. that detected fundamental changes in the central European gene pool during the 3.
The genetic evidence for large-scale movements of people became undeniable in light of the DNA data, and so the question was no longer about whether ancient DNA analysis can be trusted, but how the results should be interpreted and presented.
This article aims to contribute to developing a better understanding and cooperation between the two disciplines and beyond.
It focuses on the question of how best to name clusters encountered when analysing the genetic makeup of past human populations.In the case of the ‘mixed system (a)’ this is often implemented by using archaeological cultural designations, like Bell_Beaker and Corded_Ware, which have well-recognised meanings that make them accessible to a wider audience.However, a potential pitfall in borrowing already existing names from archaeology is that an archaeological cultural designation may or may not have a one-to-one correspondence with a genetic cluster.Recent methodological advances including the advent of second generation short read sequencing technologies, the application of targeted hybridisation capture, and the recognition of petrous bones as rich sources for preservation of DNA, have transformed ancient DNA analysis into a revolutionary new tool for investigating the past.The exponential increase in the publication of ancient genomes, however, has not been matched by the development of a theoretical framework for the discussion of ancient DNA results and their contextualisation within the fields of history and archaeology.Recent studies have frequently borrowed archaeological cultural designations to name these genetic groups, while neglecting the historically problematic nature of the concept of cultures in archaeology.After reviewing current practices in naming genetic clusters, we introduce three possible nomenclature systems (‘numeric system’, ‘mixed system (a)’, ‘geographic-temporal system’) along with their advantages and challenges.Coherence: Individuals from genetically distinguishable groups should not be given the same name; individuals from genetically indistinguishable ones should.Accessibility: The names given to genetic clusters should be recognisable and easy to remember.Genome-wide ancient DNA analysis of skeletons retrieved from archaeological excavations has provided a powerful new tool for the investigation of past populations and migrations.An important objective for the coming years is to properly integrate ancient genomics into archaeological research.