The statement, compiled and signed by 68 researchers from 31 countries, was initiated by David Reich's laboratory at Harvard Medical School. The starting point was an online, global, and multidisciplinary workshop in November 2020 focused on discussing ethical issues and guidelines for archaeogenetic research.

The rapid growth of ancient DNA and its impact on archaeology (and other fields) has led to calls for a discussion about the ethical standards to govern such research. Best practices for sampling human remains for scientific analysis and engaging with stakeholder groups are key ethical discussions among researchers studying ancient DNA. While some guidelines have been previously proposed, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to ancient DNA ethics because of the notable variation in research contexts worldwide. What has been missing is a set of principles that can apply universally and are agreed upon by a substantial number of researchers from different disciplines and locations.

Participants of the workshop and coauthors of the paper agreed on the need to establish an international guideline that the scientific communities of geneticists, anthropologists, and archaeologists worldwide can adhere to. This guideline sets out basic ethical rules that can be applied in ancient DNA research.

The five guidelines detailed in the paper are as follows: 

(1) Researchers must abide by all regulations in the places where they work and from which the human remains originate.
(2) Researchers must prepare a detailed plan prior to beginning any study.
(3) Researchers must minimize damage to human remains.
(4) Researchers must ensure that data are made available following publication to allow critical reexamination of scientific findings.
(5) Researchers must engage with stakeholders and ensure respect and sensitivity to other stakeholder perspectives.

As coauthors of this article, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy and our Institute of Archaeogenomics is committed to adhere to these guidelines, and together with our staff, we believe that they will help to cultivate the field of science in accordance with appropriate ethical standards of investigating human remains.

We consider it extremely important to discuss in detail the design, timing and expected outcome of the studies with stakeholders before beginning our practical work. As part of the professional work, we should regularly consult with the relevant surveyors, archaeologists and anthropologists, and through these consultations our goal should be to implement joint, interdisciplinary work.

DNA samples are taken by us using evolving procedures to minimize disruption to biological findings. We store the intermediate DNA products of the work leading to the results, and our data becomes freely available after publication. At the same time, we aim to distribute our results as broadly as possible and communicate them in such a way as to prevent their possible misinterpretation and misuse.

The results of archaeogenetics must play an important role in understanding the past. However, they cannot serve as a basis for excluding certain groups or for advancing ideological policies, such as power or territorial acquisition, of other groups.

The article has been fully translated into 24 languages, including Hungarian, to ensure accessibility to people worldwide who may have interests in ancient DNA research in their regions.

To whom correspondence should be addressed in the AIG RCH: Anna Szécsényi-Nagy (), in the IA RCH and RGK DAI: Eszter Bánffy (; )


Interviews & commentary videos of the coauthors worldwide: