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From the Fall of Rome to Byzantium: New Light from DNA, Ice Cores, and Harvard’s Science of the Human Past

The Oak Room, Fellowship House
May 1, 2019
06:00 PM to 08:00 PM
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Byzantine Studies Public Lecture, Michael McCormick

Historians and archaeologists have long debated the processes that ended the ancient world and gave rise to the civilizations of Byzantium, the medieval West, and Islam. The advances of archaeology are delivering ever more material pieces of the past that are suitable for expanding scientific toolkits, featuring ancient DNA, ice cores, and digital humanities. Come learn how—from senior faculty members to freshmen—historians, archaeologists, geneticists, biomolecular archaeologists, and computer and climate scientists at Harvard University are working together, and in concert with our American and international partners, to expand what we know about the fall of Rome and the origins of Byzantium, as science, archaeology, and history combine to begin a new day in the discovery of ancient and medieval civilization.

Professor Michael McCormick is Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History at Harvard, and chairs the university-wide Initiative for the Science of the Human Past (SoHP), an interdisciplinary research network that brings together geneticists, archaeological scientists, climatologists, computer scientists, humanists, and social scientists to explore great questions of human history from our origins in Africa to our migrations across the globe. He is director in Cambridge of the new Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean. McCormick has written numerous monographs and articles, including the award-winning Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce, AD 300–900 (Cambridge University Press, 2001). He codirects the Historical Ice Core Project, a joint project of SoHP and the Climate Change Institute (University of Maine) that uses ancient ice to reconstruct the environmental and economic history of Europe back to antiquity; and the archaeoscientific excavation of the lost Visigothic royal capital at Reccopolis, Spain. 

CCI-SoHP team drilling the historical ice core inside the dome; Aerial view of the dome (images: Dr. Nicole Spaulding, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine).