I was recently alerted to a new project called "Tracing Longobard Migration through DNA Analysis". It sounds like an awesome addition to an already impressive list of ancient DNA projects underway across the globe. However, I really hope that Gepid, Ostrogoth, Avar and Hunnic remains will also be tested as part of this effort. If anyone has more info, feel free to drop a comment below.
In the most ambitious attempt to apply these new techniques to study medieval migrations to date, I have assembled a team of geneticists, archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and historians to study migration of people living in Pannonia (what is now eastern Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) into Italy in the second half of the sixth century. Historically, this migration/invasion is credited to the Longobardi, or Lombards, who established a kingdom in Italy that endured until the late eighth century and whose name lives on in Lombardia in Italy. Without assuming the veracity of historical sources written centuries later that tell of King Alboin leading his Longobards across the Alps in 568, we are studying the DNA of hundreds of individuals from cemeteries in Pannonia and Italy. Using next-generation sequencing, we hope to target distinct parts of the genome: approximately five thousand distinct locations along the genome called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, are known to be useful in differentiating individuals from different regions of Europe and will allow us to look at close kinship among our populations; and five thousand regions of one thousand base pairs of continuous DNA sequence (a total of five megabases or 0.2 percent of the whole genome) will allow us to test competing models of the demographic history of this region. The results of this sequencing, which will take place in laboratories in Florence and Milan, must then be analyzed, both by examining what is termed unsupervised analysis—that is, direct analysis of the SNPs using such tools as principal component analysis and ancestry component analysis in order to find actual relationships and patterns—and, just as importantly, by testing a wide range of models derived from population genetics, cultural archaeology, and historical records, that might allow us to test the relative probability that any of the models might best explain our data. Ultimately, we hope to be able to construct a model of the populations of Pannonia and Italy in the late sixth century that can help us understand whether individuals identified by cultural archaeologists as “Longobards” based on their grave goods have closer genetic relationships with each other than with individuals buried according to what appear to be very different cultural traditions. We want to know if there are close relationships between similar cultural groups in Pannonia and Italy, or if the apparent cultural differences mask genetic homogeneity. We hope to determine whether men and women seem to have different histories of migration: do men move and marry local women, or are men more fixed and bring women from distant areas into their homes?Patrick Geary, Using Genetic Data to Revolutionalize Understanding of Migration History, IAS eNews, Spring 2013 Issue