Stephan Schiffels, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Stephan Schiffels, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 at 14:00 in the Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Stephan Schiffels, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Genetic history: What ancient and modern DNA tells us about our human past


Our human past leaves traces in our genomes, via population size changes, admixture events and migration patterns. Via genetic analyses, we can therefore read human history from our genomes, which adds critically to our growing body of pre-historical evidence from archaeology and linguistics. In this talk, Stephan Schiffels will introduce the field of historical population genetics, and showcase three examples: First, he will show how our genomes contain information about the origins of our species in Africa, in the deep past. Second, Schiffels will describe how he and his team used ancient DNA from Anglo-Saxon remains in Great Britain to investigate the dynamic and impact of the Anglo-Saxon migration period. Third, Schiffels will introduce his most recent project, in which the scientists use ancient and modern DNA to investigate the peopling of North America.


Stephan Schiffels studied Physics at the University of Cologne, Germany, and received his PhD in January 2012, funded through a fellowshop from the German National Merit Foundation. Early on he developed an interest in biological and evolutionary problems. In his PhD thesis, supervised by Michael Lässig from the institute for Theoretical Physics, he studied asexual adaptation and the effect of genetic linkage on natural selection. From 2012 through 2015 he was a Postdoctoral Fellow, and EMBO longterm fellow, with Richard Durbin at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridge, UK.

As a Postdoc he worked on methods to estimate past demography from genome sequences. While he first applied these methods to modern DNA, he later investigated ancient DNA from archaeological sites in East England, dating to the Iron Age and early Anglo-Saxon era, which led to the first publication of ancient human genomes from Great Britain in 2016, and novel insights into the impact of the Anglo-Saxon migrations of the British population.

Since September 2015, Stephan Schiffels is research group leader for Population Genetics in the department for Archaeogenetics at the Max-Planck-Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, which has since its founding in the same year become one of the largest ancient DNA laboraties in the world. There he continues to develop methods to analyse ancient and modern DNA in order to investigate human history.

Examples for his recent work include the peopling of North America in the late Pleistocene and Holocene; the population history of Northern Europe, Finland and the Saami people; follow-up studies in ancient Britain, including the genetic history of the early Medieval and Viking period; and investigating deep human history in the earliest days of our species in Africa.