Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen says researchers are comparing ancient genomes with those of modern-day humans to gain insights into human evolution and migration.
"For the first time, ancient and modern genetic research is going hand in hand," Willerslev said in an article published in the journal Nature. "It is really a fantastic time."
Jeffrey Long of the University of Mexico in Albuquerque says the hope is ancient-modern genome comparisons can one day be used to chart splits in human populations and correlate them with climatic changes.
"I call this molecular stratigraphy," Long said of the effort to trace prehistoric migration routes. "I then want to use this relative chronology of genetic events to compare to the palaeoclimate of Earth's biomes."
Willerslev said genomes will allow researchers to test theories that have been debated for a century.
"In the next five years, we will see a whole spectrum of discoveries," he said.
"I honestly believe this new era will change our view of human evolution."