OA East has developed a long and successful partnership with the Wellcome Trust since we first began our archaeological investigations in Hinxton (South Cambridgeshire) back in 1993
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute was originally conceived as a large scale DNA sequencing centre that was created to participate in the Human Genome Project. From its inception, the institute has maintained a policy of data sharing and does much of its research collaboratively. As the Hinxton Hall/Genome Campus site has continued to develop, this has revealed the archaeology of a landscape that has been utilised for many thousands of years, with the most recent excavations in 2014 demonstrating activity extending back into the very late Glacial or early post-Glacial period.
Each phase of excavation at Hinxton has produced at least one human burial, with eleven having been recovered in total, along with various disarticulated remains. In 2013 a research proposal was produced by OA East at the request of the Wellcome Trust, in which a number of ancient DNA (aDNA) projects by staff of the Sanger Institute were combined with plans for public engagement and a related display (including a ‘Mulberry Tree Timeline’ plaque).
An important element of this research proposal was to sequence the aDNA of the Hinxton skeletons as part of a wider study into East Anglian population history. Initial testing for the survival of aDNA proved positive and consequently (after a couple of Skype sessions and numerous email conversations) it was decided to widen the research to include skeletal remains from other nearby sites at Linton and Oakington. The additional samples were collected from the selected skeletons at our Bar Hill office in March 2014 and taken to the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA in Adelaide for sequencing. The ensuing analysis and research culminated in the publication of a joint paper in Nature Communications in January 2016 which, among other results, showed that an estimated 38% of the population of Eastern England owes its ancestry to Anglo-Saxon migrations. Since then, we have also jointly contributed to a substantial feature article in British Archaeology, which included research from similar projects in York and London.
The Wellcome Trust and OA East are continuing to work together, focusing on public engagement activities (led by Clemency Cooper, OA’s Community Archaeology Manager) based on the combined results of aDNA and archaeological evidence that will include a schools and communities programme. A key aspect will be to demonstrate how the pioneering work of genomic scientists in the recovery of aDNA has transformed archaeologists’ study of people in the past in recent decades. In addition, the main author of the aDNA article (Stephan Schiffels) is currently preparing a large grant application for genetic work on the European Iron Age that is hoped to include skeletons from OA East’s extensive excavations at Clay Farm, to the south of Cambridge.
This ongoing collaboration has clearly demonstrated the advantages of close co-operation and partnership working – and how archaeology can continue to make a significant contribution to cutting-edge research and also help to shed light on some very current issues.