Well, unlike Rika, I'm going to take a very low-tech approach.
I have no slides and no overheads; my students tell me that I'd much rather
talk than work anyway, and I suspect they're right. But I also think
it's appropriate that the issues that I want to talk about are ones that
really require discussion and communication, simply talking about them
at some length. Rika alluded to some of the ethical issues involved
in identifying who to consult with respect to seeking permission to conduct
research on human remains. It's a non-trivial problem, especially
from the scientific perspective, not necessarily from other perspectives;
but from a scientific perspective there may well be preliminary evidence
that there's no identifiable group of descendants that would make a logical
candidate group from whom to seek permission. There may not be.
All geneticists know that populations are fluid; they're not constant,
and and so often implausible to think that populations we define at a moment
in time -- today -- correlate in any direct way with populations as concrete
entities in the past. At best, what we're really trying to assess
are degrees of relationships, and continuity of lineages perhaps, which
aside from technical issues, is another reason that mitochondrial DNA has
been the molecule of choice for those interested in looking at genetic
variation in the past.
I really want to talk about three examples from my experience in requesting
permission to do work on ancient materials. The study samples come
from different geographic areas, different ecological conditions as well,
and have been analyzed over the course of several years. I'm going
to do them in reverse order, from my perspective in reverse order.
That is, I’ll discuss the most recent group – recent project, I should
say -- that we are beginning to work on in my lab, and then talk about
the ones that I began earlier. I do this partly because I think we're
refining the kinds of questions that we wish to ask in ancient DNA studies,
and partly because I want to emphasize, at least in my experience, the
changing nature of the dialogue; seeking permissions from indigenous populations,
whether or not there was prior evidence or belief that the remains are
in any way directly related to the contemporary groups from the same area.
I should point out up front that I have a slight bias; and that is,
it seems to me that anthropologists have had a penchant for looking the
at archaeological record, recognizing some sort of change in material culture,
and hypothesizing that it represents some sort of major population movement
and replacement. One way of addressing the issue of population replacement
is whether or not biological genetic differences between earlier and later
peoples in an area can be demonstrated. My original interest in ancient
DNA studies was stimulated by that particular kind of question. But
because of many of the issues raised by ancient DNA research, especially
with respect to ancestral-descendant relationships between modern populations
and archaeological samples, populations that lived in the past, it became
clear to me, and many others, that there was a real problem, a genetic
problem, in identifying some sort of genetic signature of ancestral-descent
relationships. One of the things that had not been looked at was
a clear example, actually any example, of modern population and in ancient
population where there was little question and little dispute that the
ancient individuals were in fact the ancestors of the modern population.
The current project that my collaborators (Michael Crawford and Dixie
West of the University of Kansas) and a student (Geoff Hayes of the University
of Utah) have recently begun is rather larger in scope than earlier studies
for this very reason, and has been initiated in collaboration and with
the approval of the Aleut Corporation and the Aleut/Pribilof Island Association
(APIA). In the Aleutian Islands the question of biological continuity
between ancestral and descendent populations can be addressed, and we have
recently formulated a research program of simultaneous study of genetic
variation in the contemporary Aleut population, as well as a study of ancient
DNA from skeletal material that was excavated in the Aleutians decades
ago, and which has been curated in museums since recovery. We proposed
this project, and the anthropological and genetic reasons we were interested
in pursuing it, to the Aleutian Corporation.
Dixie West, one of the collaborating investigators on this project,
is an archaeologist who has for several years been conducting archaeological
research with the Aleut Corporation in the Aleutian Islands, and has a
long-term working relationship with the Corporation and the APIA, and first
broached the subject of biological studies with the Corporation and Aleut
community members. Following a receptive answer to that query, Crawford
and I, as anthropological geneticists, and I became involved and sent a
summary of the kind of research we would be interested in conducting, the
rationale for it, to the Aleut Corporation. It was reviewed by the
Aleut Corporation, and they responded favorably. That is, they felt
that they also had interests in learning about the same kind of issues.
I believed they viewed it, as I do, primarily as an exercise in population
history, to learn more about ancestral-descendant relationships in the
Aleutian Islands. We subsequently met with representatives of the
Corporation in Anchorage and discussed issues attendant to the research.
Subsequently we formulated a formal proposal that would be submitted for
funding. We provided this full proposal to the Aleut Corporation.
After a period of time, the Corporation notified us that they supported
the goals of the research project as stated in the proposal, and provided
a letter of permission to proceed with the project -- if funding could
be secured. I learned a lot from that kind of dialogue, which occurred
over a long period of time.
A similar, but alternative, experience, came with respect to a project
also having to do identifying a genetic signature of population replacement,
and this is a project, utilizing material from the Eastern Arctic is just
now getting underway. Someone mentioned earlier this morning. the
Northwest Territories in Canada has been subdivided, and a new province,
Nunavut, becomes an operating entity on April 1st, if I remember the dates
correctly. But prior to that date, the governing structure of that
province certainly has already been established, and is in place.
My doctoral student, Geoff Hayes, who works on the Aleut project, has related
interests in the prehistory of the eastern arctic. We new that based
on pronounced change in material culture, archaeologists had hypothesized
a population replacements in the eastern arctic, and that prehistoric skeletal
samples that might permit evaluating this hypothesis had been excavated
several decades ago. These skeletal materials are curated at the Museum
of Civilization in Ottawa. We contacted the museum to a) learn policies
regarding access to collections, and b) solicit advice on who appropriate
indigenous representatives would be to request permissions to conduct the
research we were interested in. The Museum of Civilization contacted
the Inuit Heritage Trust, Inc., on our behalf. A series of communications
took place: a preliminary proposal; a formal proposal; responses to queries,
and revisions to each proposal. All of this was conducted with the Museum
acting as intermediary – proposals were submitted to the Museum, which
transmitted them to the Trust. An archaeologist, employed by the
Inuit Heritage Trust attended meetings and answered questions regarding
our proposed research, and conveyed questions and concerns voiced by the
Inuit Heritage Trust to us via the Museum. We responded to such queries
via a reverse path. Despote the multilayered communication system,
the Trust had few concerns regarding the research, and no serious objections.
In a relatively short amount of time, they approved the project, and granted
permission to sample the skeletal material for ancient DNA research, with
three restrictions. And at each step expressed interest in seeing
the research go forward, not only voicing no objections, but essentially
giving permission, but only under certain conditions, and the conditions
I found quite interesting.
The first restriction had to do with the amount of skeletal material
to be collected. We had been very specific regarding the amount of
material we required for our analyses, and we were not to sample more than
this amount per specimen. This posed no problem, since we had no
plans to sample more than that requested. Parenthetically, this was
an item of discussion with the Aleut Corporation as well, and we certainly
agreed to collect no more skeletal material than we specified in our formal
request. Consequently, we are very careful to document the amount
of skeletal material sampled, and never exceed the approved amount.
The second requirement was that any publications or written work emanating
from the project be given directly to the Nunayat. The third -- and to
me most interesting, the one that frankly pleased me the most -- was that
in addition to copies of publications to be provided to the Nunavut, a
final report of the project would be summarized in non-technical language,
and translated into the Inuktitut (Inuit) language. This translated
summary of the project final report would also be filed with the Inuit
Heritage Trust. The reasons for this were quite logical and appealing:
most Nunavut are not scientists, and therefore a general summary rather
than technical publications would be more accessible, and most are more
comfortable in a language other than English, the language I write in.
This seemed imminently sensible to me, and I also took it as a genuine
interest in the results of the project. The Inuit Heritage Trust
agreed to provide names of translators we could contact to perform the
translations of the summary report. We made the decision that we
would prepare translated summaries of reports we plan to submit for publication,
and solicit comment from the Trust prior to publication. Both the
eastern and arctic Aleut material has just begun to be analyzed.
I should also point out -- this is sort of a technical issue for those
who write grants, particularly in ancient DNA research, or in other areas
of biology or genetics, simply are more to be supportable if preliminary
data illustrating that the feasibility of the project is available.
This can be quite problematic for ancient DNA research, since formal permissions
to conduct a project do not usually cover preliminary work required prior
to submission of a research proposal. In the case of discussions
with the Aleut Corporation, we made two requests. One was approval
for the formal, full proposal that we wished to submit for funding, but
we also asked for permission to take a small number of small samples to
do a pilot project, the results of which would be incorporated into the
final proposal. So they actually gave two stages of permission. Once
the pilot data were generated, making it possible to do the project, those
data were reported in the grant proposal, which was reviewed and approved
by the Aleut Corporation.
I'm going to stop, because we're way past time, and I apologize.
Just to summarize, I think there is considerable diversity of opinion regarding
how to approach permissions to analyze ancient DNA -- by the way, sometimes
the answer is no, and that's that. But there seems to be considerable
differences in style and approach in how to handle such requests, how to
handle responses to and from the scientific investigators and the indigenous
communities to whom the requests are presented, and a good deal of variation
in the outcome. And with that, I should stop. We'll be happy
to take questions.
*This talk has been edited for web publishing by the author.