February 26, 2011

Lack of vitamin D also causes allergies among children

In another example of the critical role that vitamin D plays in human development, it has been demonstrated now that children with low levels of this key nutrient develop allergies.

Vitamin D is relatively difficult to obtain from food (mostly fish) but we make it in our skin when irradiated by sunlight. Skin color variation is directly related to this necessity.

In the past lack of vitamin D in children (or their mothers) has been linked to rickets, incorrect brain development, autoimmune diseases and other immunity related problems. Allergies also fall within the problematic of inappropriate immunity and can well be considered autoimmune diseases, even if often mild and with very specific triggers.

Source: Science Daily.

See also:

February 25, 2011

Archaeonews Feb 25

The latest compilation of the sometimes quite interesting archaeological news from around the world by the people at Stone Pages is in my mailbox today. I cannot really pick one or two this time, so I'll offer you half a dozen instead:


  • 9 meters underwater at the Isle of Wigh... there is a whole Neolithic settlement with incredibly preserved wood artifacts - video at BBC
  • Recognize Somaliland to preserve its Neolithic treasures (right), or why UNESCO will not protect the impressive Neolithic cave art of this very real African state - article at CNN
  • Sauna and pork feast remains at Marden Henge, England. I'd say this pretty much demolishes the idea that saunas have any sort of Celtic or Indoeuropean specific cultural link - article at This is Wiltshire 

Metal Ages:
See also: Stone Pages.

February 23, 2011

Craniometrics confirms that Eastern and NE European Neolithic was made by aborigins, not immigrants

On the contrary the same skull-measuring method suggests that there was at least partial replacement in the Balcans and Central Europe, where other archaeological and archaeogenetic evidence also supports such population replacement.

No information is provided for the Cardium Pottery area from Bosnia to Portugal but, considering the archaeological and genetic evidence I'd bet a lot that there was only localized population replacement as well, specially as one moves westwards. Also no information is provided for Atlantic Europe but again I daresay that there is a strong case for demographic continuity here as well. 

The results show that while the initial transition to agriculture in central Europe was the result of migrating farmers from the Near-East and Anatolia, agricultural practices were adopted by indigenous hunter-gatherer populations in outlying regions of Europe. Therefore, instead of employing two competing and mutually exclusive models of biological versus cultural diffusion, a mosaic model of both biological and cultural diffusion is a more appropriate model for this demographic change across Europe as a whole.

Totally agree with this last part. I always found totally annoying that results from Germany and Poland would have to be extrapolated to the whole of Europe when the cultural dynamics were so different in the various regions and periods. This underlines a basic lack of multidisciplinary education on the part of researchers, specially some quite pretentious geneticists.

The paper is authored by Irish researchers Ron Pinhasi and Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel and will be published soon at PNAS.

Open issues:

Where did the colonists originate? It is easy, I understand to detect changes in local population composition, but novely does not necessarily imply direct arrival from the Fertile Crescent. Actually a more nearby origin is likely instead even if there is a chain reaction of sorts. 

What happened to them after that? One thing we have learned from ancient DNA research is that there was demic replacement in Central Europe most probably with Neolithic but also that there must have been another population shift some time after it. We do not see anything like modern mtDNA pools in the area before the Urnfield Culture (late Bronze Age). What does this mean? Did proto-Celts or whoever genocided not just the Neolithic farmers but also the early Indoeuropeans who had vanquished them first? Why do these people show a type of genetic pool apparently once common in SW Europe (high mtDNA H particularly)? 

Complex stuff that I do not dare to answer, specially because the evidence is not yet comprehensive enough.


Update (Feb 24):

The paper is already up and freely available (thanks to Natsuya for the tip):

Interestingly the Natufian Mesolithic and the Central European Epipaleolithic ("Mesolithic") samples are totally off the chart, however all other European Epipaleolithic samples, from West and East are within the box of mainstream Westerness by all measures.

However this main group of cranial homogeneity has two clear subsets: one of Anatolian and apparent Neolithic affinities and another that includes all other European Epipaleolithic samples, as well as East European Neolithic ones. Pretty much settling the issue of the origin of Eastern European Neolithic cultures: local development based on occasional contacts, something that was already quite obvious based on archaeology as well (continuity of extended burials with ochre, rustic pottery unrelated to that of West Asian or Central European cultures, high importance of hunt until late dates).

Sadly no data is provided for any West European Neolithic, not even Mediterranean Neolithic with the rather unrepresentative exception of a Chalcolithic Sardinian sample. In this aspect this paper is no help at all.

Following the rather consistent affinities, some observations can be made:

Pan-European Epipaleolithic archetype

Fig. 3, click to expand
Among hunter-gatherers (and Eastern European Neolithics), other than the outliers from Swabia, the main standard is one including SW Europeans (Portugal, West France), a Serbian sample from Vlasac and one of the two Dniepr-Don samples (the one from the Don basin). So we can well talk of a very much homogeneous pan-European type for which the oversampled East Europeans are rather an exception, outliers, yet closer than all Anatolio-Balcano-Danubian-Danish Neolithic peoples.

Two demic flows from highland West Asia are apparent

Based on the rather consistent groupings of Neolithic peoples in the Central European strip, I think that it can well be argued that
  1. Most danubians (LBK) appear to be directly related to Thessalian Neolithic (Nea Nikomedia) and this one to South Anatolian neolithic (Çatalhöyuk).
  2. Eastern Linear Pottery (AVK, Tisza basin) peoples seem to relate best to SE Balcan Neolithic peoples (probably well represented by the Gumelnita Chalcolithic site) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of the Upper Euphrates.
  3. Some peripheral groups seem rather distinct and may suggest admixture with natives.
  4. The Körös group is consistently similar to Danish Neolithic peoples of TRBK (Funnelbeaker culture) and this set falls quite apart from the other Neolithic populations in the ME tree, while it falls outside the mains Euro-Anatolian set in the NJ tree. This would be probably best explained if this Hungary-Denmark affinity pre-dates Neolithic. However the only local Paleolithic sample (Vlasac in Serbia) clusters elsewhere, so maybe it means a mixed population after all. In any case I do not think anyone can argue that Körös-TRBK is a purely immigrant population on light of this data.

I tried to visually represent these notions over the map in fig. 1:

My visual interpretation of the affinities revealed in the paper

The solid join-the-dots blue and green lines represent most homogeneous Neolithic subclusters of apparent West Asian origin. The nearby dotted areas suggest hybrid populations at the "margins" of this Neolitic demic expansion (yet in some cases such as Körös or Lengyel, they are rather in the middle of all, not truly peripheral). 

The dashed purple line of course represents the area of aboriginal Neolithic of Eastern Europe, while the dotted purple line around Denmark suggests a highly native but admixed population in that area. I failed to represent the Denmark-Körös connection however.

I also failed to represent the grouping of Lengyel, Michelsberger, LBK West, Blicze Zlote and Chalcolthic Sardinia, whose meaning I fail to comprehend (except that they are probably all admixed Anatolian-European Aboriginal peoples).

February 19, 2011

Laotian genetics (mtDNA)

Laos is a state of Indochina Peninsula (also mainland SE Asia) hosting a huge ethnic diversity. As many as 49 ethnic groups are acknowledged nowadays, often divided into lowland (Lao and others, mostly of Kradai languages), midland (Mon-Khmer and others of mostly Austroasiatic languages) and highland peoples (Hmong and others of Hmong-Mien and Tibeto-Burman languages).

As far as I know the genetics of this part of the World had not been explored in until now:

Fig. 3 - PCA

I'll excerpt some of the paper's most interesting insights here:

Major haplogroups and macrohaplogroup structure:

The most prevalent haplogroups were B5a (12%), F1a1a (7.5%), C7 and M7b1 (6% each).

Macrohaplogroup N (including haplogroups A, B, F, N and R) comprised 57% of the samples in 37 haplogroups. 26% of the samples were assigned to haplogroup B, almost equally to B4 and B5. 26 out of the 27 haplogroup B5 samples were found to be haplogroup B5a. 22% of the samples belonged to haplogroup F, of which 79% belonged to F1a and its subhaplogroups.

Macrohaplogroup M (including haplogroups C, D, G and M) comprised 43% in 27 haplogroups. 32% of the samples belonged to haplogroup M, distributed among ten subhaplogroups. 25% of the M samples, however, remained M*. No maternal west Eurasian or African admixture was detected.

The recently described haplogroup M71 was diverse in the Laos sample.

Characteristics of Laotians and some control populations:

The Laos sample showed mtDNA diversity characteristic of Southeast Asian populations. The composition of haplogroups was in agreement with other populations from this region [3- 7,12,17,23-25,35], with haplogroups B4a, B5a, M7b1, F1a and R9 being the most frequent southern aboriginal lineages.

Little Northern contribution was detected. The presence of haplogroups described as Northern (East) Asian [4,6,7,25,36], i.e. A, Z, Y, C, M8a, M9, G2, D and N9, was low in the Laos dataset.

Obviously, the Han population samples did not cluster in the correspondence analysis. Although assigned to the same nationality, they are distant from each other genetically.

It was also meaningful to separate the Hmong and Mien population samples [5], that are usually combined based on linguistics, as they differ genetically (see Figure 4).

Fast post-OoA migration confirmed:

... the novel basal M haplogroups found in high diversity in the Laos sample and surrounding populations support the fast migration and in situ differentiation model (see Figure 3).

In spite of language Laotians are closest to Austroasiatics than Daics:

An interesting picture was revealed (see Additional Files 6, 7 and 8, Figure 4): the ethnic population with the highest similarity to the Laos sample in terms of shared haplotypes, MPD, pairwise FST values and localization in the MDS plot were the Austro-Asiatic [3]. This was unexpected...

... unexpected probably because the assumptions of the authors about the recent demographic history of the region (full of mass migrations towards the mountaintops - what?!) just do not seem to make much sense.

February 18, 2011

Jericho's tower had astronomical relevance

Astronomy was clearly important in the lives of the ancients, it seems. It was at least the case in early Neolithic Jericho, whose seemingly classless society built a stonewall dominated by which was probably the tallest building back then: a tower at least 8.25 m tall (left).

Interestingly it has been discovered now that the tower is aligned with the summer solstice in a way that, when the Sun sets that evening, the shadows of the nearby hill envelop first the tower and then the whole town.

Roy Liran and Ray Barkai, Casting a shadow on Neolithic Jericho. Antiquity, 2011. Freely accesible. 

February 17, 2011

Brazilians are much more homogeneous than 'racial' categories suggest

This is a very revealing paper on Brazilian genetic makeup and the shallowness of racial classification in general:


Based on pre-DNA racial/color methodology, clinical and pharmacological trials have traditionally considered the different geographical regions of Brazil as being very heterogeneous. We wished to ascertain how such diversity of regional color categories correlated with ancestry. Using a panel of 40 validated ancestry-informative insertion-deletion DNA polymorphisms we estimated individually the European, African and Amerindian ancestry components of 934 self-categorized White, Brown or Black Brazilians from the four most populous regions of the Country. We unraveled great ancestral diversity between and within the different regions. Especially, color categories in the northern part of Brazil diverged significantly in their ancestry proportions from their counterparts in the southern part of the Country, indicating that diverse regional semantics were being used in the self-classification as White, Brown or Black. To circumvent these regional subjective differences in color perception, we estimated the general ancestry proportions of each of the four regions in a form independent of color considerations. For that, we multiplied the proportions of a given ancestry in a given color category by the official census information about the proportion of that color category in the specific region, to arrive at a “total ancestry” estimate. Once such a calculation was performed, there emerged a much higher level of uniformity than previously expected. In all regions studied, the European ancestry was predominant, with proportions ranging from 60.6% in the Northeast to 77.7% in the South. We propose that the immigration of six million Europeans to Brazil in the 19th and 20th centuries - a phenomenon described and intended as the “whitening of Brazil” - is in large part responsible for dissipating previous ancestry dissimilarities that reflected region-specific population histories. These findings, of both clinical and sociological importance for Brazil, should also be relevant to other countries with ancestrally admixed populations.

Real ancestry of various regional populations divided by racial self-description (fig. 2):

It is I think quite interesting to realize that racial categories are often meaningless in representing the real ancestry of individuals collectives. This is specially true for the brown (pardo) and black (preto)  categories but, in the north specially, it is also very true for the category white (branco). In this sense, the Brazilian census would probably do well dropping racial categories altogether, as they are obviously without meaning. 

Overall Brazilians seem mostly of European ancestry (60-80%), with some lesser regional variability, as is very apparent in figure 3:

Native American ancestry is rather homogeneous by regions, making up 7-10% of the ancestry except in the North (Amazon) region, where it's double (19%). African ancestry is somewhat more important and also regionally variable: 10% to 29% (this last in the Northeast).

Notice anyhow that the samples were collected in six specific cities and that specially the vast Amazon region is probably under-represented (as the only sample comes from Belem, a large city of the coast). I'd dare say that the vast Brazilian interior (all samples are from the coast) must be stronger in Native American ancestry, even if we do not consider the surviving aboriginal populations, but only the creoles.

February 16, 2011

Hainan islanders' matrilineal relations

Location of Hainan (red)
The Li or Hlai are a Kradai-speaking people from Hainan, today a province of P.R. China and the only one which is fully insular (besides the claimed but not controlled Taiwan). However in the Pleistocene Hainan used to be a peninsula and therefore an affinity with mainland peoples was to be expected. 

Effectively there is such affinity, notably with the people of Guangxi Zhuang, who are still largely also speakers of Kradai (or Tai-Kadai) languages (Zhuang specially). This and other findings are detailed in this new paper:

Key excerpts from the paper:

We found that Hainan islanders showed close relationship with the populations in mainland southern China, especially from Guangxi. Haplotype sharing analyses suggested that the recent gene flow from the mainland might play important roles in shaping the maternal pool of Hainan islanders. More importantly, haplogroups M12, M7e, and M7c1* might represent the genetic relics of the ancient population that populated this region; and 14 representative complete mtDNA genomes were further sequenced.


The predominant haplogroups in southern China and Southeast Asia: haplogroups B, F, and M7 together account for ~ 69%, 71%, and 63% of the maternal gene pools of the populations Li-BT, Li-LD, and Li-QZ, respectively (Table 1). The prevailing haplogroups in northern China, such as haplogroups A, D4, G, and Z, were rare or even absent in the three Li populations.


The genetic difference between Hainan islanders and populations from the mainland was statistically significant (p < 0.001, Analysis of molecular variance, AMOVA), whereas the difference between the Li populations (Li-BT, Li-LD, Li-QZ, Li-TZ, and Jiamao) and non-Li populations (Cun, Danga, and Lingao) was not (p = 0.147±0.010, AMOVA).


In general, the mtDNA haplogroup profiles of Hainan islanders are similar to the profiles of the populations from mainland southern China. (...) Especially, most Hainan islanders were clustered with some populations from Guangxi (Figure 3). This pattern was also reflected by the genome-wide data: the Jiamao population in Hainan Island was clustered with the Zhuang population (i.e. the dominant minority ethnic group in Guangxi) (...)

Additionally there are some interesting data mines in the additional files and the figures. Sadly at the moment of me reading the provisional manuscript, most of these figures suffered from critical crop errors and cannot therefore be used (fixed, see below) to illustrate the results of the study.

Update (Feb 17): the illustration errors have been fixed (sometimes writing an email is worth it) and now they can be used to better understand the genetics of the area. For example:

From fig. 6: frequency of mtDNA M12

PC analysis, Hlai (Li) people are to the bottom left

Challenging 'behavioral modernity'

This issue of behavioral modernity is something I have never really accepted from mainstream Prehistory and Anthropology. In this conceptual paradigm or intellectual fetish (whatever you prefer to call it), humankind almost suddenly emerged from the amorphous shadows of what we could call (by contrast) behavioral primitivism and began being us, maybe when they decided to create some perdurable art like that we can find in the caves of Southwestern Europe and the related technologies defined as mode four (or blade-based stone industries or Upper Paleolithic in the narrowest possible sense). 

The reference is silly and eurocentric but very real in these academic fields. As of late, the finding of other, more ancient and not really European expressions of prehistoric artwork, notably in Palestine, North Africa and South Africa (in this chronological order per the available data) allowed the concept to escape its original sin of Eurocentrism somewhat but, regardless, is the concept real?

A new study by John J. Shea, published in Current Anthropology (pay per view, discussed at Science Daily), challenges this, already quite shattered perception of some almost miraculous transition towards behavioral modernity on scientific grounds: Shea analyzes the rather well documented early Humankind in East Africa between 250,000  and 6000 years ago, and finds no linear pattern of evolution but rather an outstanding array of nonlinear diversity. 

From the news article:

A systematic comparison of variability in stone tool making strategies over the last quarter-million years shows no single behavioral revolution in our species' evolutionary history. Instead, the evidence shows wide variability in Homo sapiens toolmaking strategies from the earliest times onwards. Particular changes in stone tool technology can be explained in terms of the varying costs and benefits of different toolmaking strategies, such as greater needs for cutting edge or more efficiently-transportable and functionally-versatile tools. One does not need to invoke a "human revolution" to account for these changes, they are explicable in terms of well-understood principles of behavioral ecology.

February 13, 2011

Play was central at class-less Indus Valley Civilization... and other Archaeo News

As they do regularly, the people of Stone Pages bring us some archaeological news from around the world.

Most interesting to me this time is that, according to Elle Rogersdotter, one of every ten artifacts at the intriguing Indus Valley Civilization, the first civilization of South Asia, was for fun, including dice and gaming pieces.

The magnificent civilization, unlike others of its kind, does not include anything that can be interpreted as a temple or palace, confusing researchers used to think that elites were necessary for social organization. However other early civilizations of West Asia (Jericho, Çatalhöyuk) were also classless it seems. 

Besides the many toys and games, the people of Mohenjo Daro also enjoyed other recreations like this huge public bath or swimming pool:

Other items I found notable in this newsletter are:

February 12, 2011

Quote of the month: Txillardegi

Maybe Basque language will not be saved with a state, but without a state for sure it will be lost. 

J.L. Álvarez Enparantza, Txillardegi at Berria, today.

February 11, 2011

Swedish autosomal genetics

There is a new paper analyzing the genetic structure of Swedes:

Interestingly, Nothern Swedes strike as rather different from the rest, yet also distinct from Finns:

Fig. 3
Legend for the above image: 
  • BRI: British
  • CEU HapMap Utah whites
  • GER Germans
  • GOTA: South Swedish (Gotaland and Scania)
  • SVEA: Central Swedish (Svealand)
  • NOR: Northern Swedish (Norrland)
  • SWE: Swedish of unknown origin
  • FIW: SW Finnish
  • FIE: NE Finnish
  • RUS: Russian
At K=2 we can see the nowadays already classical dichotomy between Finnish and other North-Central Europeans.

At K=3 we get a third cluster (red) corresponding specifically to Swedes (or maybe Scandinavians in general) with some notable penetration in SW Finland but not in NE Finland. It's also apparent in Russia (but vanishes at a later stage, so disregard), Germany and somewhat in Britain/CEU. As the second most important declared ancestry of Utahns, after English, is Danish, we notice somewhat more importance of the Scandinavian component among them.

At K=4 we get the curious North Swedish distinctive cluster (green). The authors lament not having sampled Sami and Norwegians for comparison. However they do speculate to it representing a Sami element. This is in any case the most relevant discovery of this paper. 

At K=5 we get a distinct East European component dominant among Russians and with important penetration in Germany, probably the result of Indoeuropean (and then also Slavic) migrations in the past.

The authors mention that they have detected some genetic barriers in North Sweden, which they associate to the presence of the green component. This is represented in the image at the left, which is my modified version of fig. S7, whose legend reads:

Six zones of strong genetic change inferred by the Barrier software. The borders (in red) are numbered in decreasing order of strength, and they are based on FST distances that have been corrected for the geographical distance between provinces. Note that the FST values differ significantly from zero only for the first two borders.

That is why I emphasized with thicker lines the only two genetic barriers, which are statistically meaningful (1 and 2).

February 8, 2011

And more Neanderthal-Sapiens subtle differences

David Sánchez of Noticias de Prehistoria, has today a very nice review (in Spanish language) of several papers which have come out in short term, most of them already mentioned here, on subtle anatomical differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.

However one was not known to me yet:

Qin Zhu and G. P. Bingham, Human readiness to throw: the size–weight illusion is not an illusion when picking the best objects to throw. Evolution and Human Behavior, 2011. Pay per view. (doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.11.005)


Long-distance throwing is uniquely human and enabled Homo sapiens to survive and even thrive during the ice ages. The precise motoric timing required relates throwing and speech abilities as dependent on the same uniquely human brain structures. Evidence from studies of brain evolution is consistent with this understanding of the evolution and success of H. sapiens. Recent theories of language development find readiness to develop language capabilities in perceptual biases that help generate ability to detect relevant higher order acoustic units that underlie speech. Might human throwing capabilities exhibit similar forms of readiness? Recently, human perception of optimal objects for long-distance throwing was found to exhibit a size–weight relation similar to the size–weight illusion; greater weights were picked for larger objects and were thrown the farthest. The size–weight illusion is: lift two objects of equal mass but different size, the larger is misperceived to be less heavy than the smaller. The illusion is reliable and robust. It persists when people know the masses are equal and handle objects properly. Children less than 2 years of age exhibit it. These findings suggest the illusion is intrinsic to humans. Here we show that perception of heaviness (including the illusion) and perception of optimal objects for throwing are equivalent. Thus, the illusion is functional, not a misperception: optimal objects for throwing are picked as having a particular heaviness. The best heaviness is learned while acquiring throwing skill. We suggest that the illusion is a perceptual bias that reflects readiness to acquire fully functional throwing ability. This unites human throwing and speaking abilities in development in a manner that is consistent with the evolutionary history.

Arguably this subtle ability of intuitively evaluating objects for their throwing characteristics was not extant among Neanderthals or was less developed. Or at least that is what co-author Bingham argues based on size of cerebellum and posterior-parietal cortex in both species (more developed in ours).

Also, as complement to all this digression on the various Homo sp. hunting techniques and biological abilities, David includes a beautiful documentary on Bushmen hunting, narrated by David Attenborough. In it we can follow how a group of Bushmen track and hunt a kudu in some eight hours and the rather unexpected advantages of our species in the hunt (long term resistance and sweat specially):

See also:

February 7, 2011

Homo sapiens: marathon runners

I recently mentioned some research that suggested that Neanderthals were good at sprinting. Well, now it seems that our kin was (is) instead much better than Neanderthals at long distance running. However our European aboriginal cousins were good at walking and at strength-demanding exercises.

All this based on the proportions of the heel bone, the calcaneus.

Neanderthal heel was taller than ours and would hence have been quite worse for the spring action that is critical in running performance.

Source: PhysOrg, via AiE.

Brain's electrical fields: feature, not any bug

Caltech researchers have found that the electric fields of the brain are not just any mere by product of neuronal electrical activity but that they actually provide feedback to neurones and is an important part of the cognitive process.

In the words of lead researcher Costas Anastassiou:

... while active neurons give rise to extracellular fields, the same fields feed back to the neurons and alter their behavior.

So far, neural communication has been thought to occur at localized machines, termed synapses. Our work suggests an additional means of neural communication through the extracellular space independent of synapses.

Importantly external electric fields as weak as 1 mV/mm alter the behavior of neurones. Typically mammalian brains have fields of 2-3 mV/mm or more, what implies that they are actually affecting the brain's behavior internally.

An open question is whether electric fields external to our bodies such as those produced by all types of machines, as well as electric and telecommunication installations, do have an effect in our brains and which one. Even the Earth has its own significant electromagnetic field which interacts with the also powerful Solar one in barely researched ways.

Source: Science Daily.

Ref. paper: Costas A. Anastassiou et al., Ephaptic coupling of cortical neurons. Nature Neuroscience, 2011. Pay per view.

February 6, 2011

Linguistic musings: Adur, Apru and Aphrodite

There's a lengthy discussion after my latest speculative incursion into the messy field of Linguistics, probably breaking a record in what refers to comments in this blog: 210 so far!

But what brings me to write this note is that in latest comments have partly dealt with the origins of the name of the goddess Aphrodite, also known by her Latin name of Venus, but to Etruscans known as Apru, giving name to the month of April.

La nascita di Venere (Botticelli)
Botticelli famously imagined this way the legend of Aphrodite's birth

The indoeuropeist hypothesis of Aphrodite's name says that it comes from aphrós (foam), reflecting her mythological birth out of the sea foam after the severed testicles of Ouranos fell on it. Reader and linguist Octavià Alexandre argued the following purely IE etymology (for aphrós)

from IE *ºnbh-ro-/*ºnbhr-i- 'rain', a derivate of *nebh- 'cloud, mist'

However I protested that rain seems unrelated to foam or surf. And then (not long ago) he provided me with a most valuable tip, that I, ignorant of the subtleties of Classical Greek, could have never figured on my own:

The Greek word can also refer to dribble (Spanish baba). 

This immediately ringed a bell in my mind because there's a special word in Basque for it: adur. It is special not just because it means saliva or mucosa but because it also has a very special mythological meaning as the magic fluid of the universe. As such it is present in the name of the Basque river Adur (Adour in French) and probably also in English river Adur and the so many rivers in Europe with the pre-Indoeuropean particle dur- in them

However I had not expected this element to show up at all in SE Europe or the Eastern Mediterranean. Even if I am familiar with the classical Gimbutist theory of Old Europe and the alleged importance of the fluid and its zig-zag symbols, particularly common in Vinča culture iconography (but also apparent in other contexts and often associated to female sexuality or birthgiving), I had never suspected a relationship with Basque word and mythic concept Adur.

A few days ago Andalusian archaeology blog Pileta de Prehistoria mentioned (following Discovery News) the finding of a "stone age fertility ritual object" in Poland dated to c. 11,000 years ago. I did not give this finding too much importance at first, even if it is curiously a lot older than the better known Neolithic counterparts, but now I feel the need to add it to the evidence in favor of this Adur-Apru pan-European link.

The fertility meaning is explained because of the zig-zag symbols, which are very much like those of Vinča iconography but also because the body proportions of the human icon are feminine, strongly suggesting the moment of birthgiving, a most important cosmological instance for any religiosity connected with reality  (i.e. not pamphletist dogmatic "revealed" religions, like Judeochristoislamism).

Back to Aphrodite, let's remember that she is not any Olympian goddess (not sibling or daughter of Zeus) but obviously related to a pre-Olympian cosmology, fully in connection with the early mythical (and terribly Oedipic) struggle between Kronos (Saturn) and Ouranos. Aphrodite is by all accounts a pre-Indoeuropean goddess closer to West Asian goddesses like Astarte, all them associated to the planet we know today as Venus. 

Let's recall as well that it was Trojan favor for Aphrodite (and not the less sensual and more Indoeuropean-Patriarchal goddesses Hera, the wife, or Athena, the warrior maiden) the mythological trigger of the war as narrated by Homer. Aphrodite is clearly one of the last incarnations of the ancient Mother Goddess that Gimbutas' often genial intuition found in Old Europe.

So Aphrodite, Apru in Etruscan, might well be the religious embodiment of this perception of the "magic flow" and its sexual and reproductive ("fertility") implications, so important in Neolithic Europe and preserved till Modernity in the Basque Country (then becoming Satanic iconography in some cases, like the black billy goat, thanks to the Inquisition). 

Therefore Pelasgian-Etruscan Apru, derived into Greek as Aphrós should be foam, salive, and magic fluid in general. The fluid of life. 

Exactly the same as Adur, which is almost for sure a cognate. 

Now, which was first, the chicken of the egg? Is Apru or Adur the oldest term? This I live open to discussion. However the Polish Epipaleolithic finding is highly suggestive of a pre-Neolithic and hence Vasconic origin for this concept, which fits well with the fact that at least the ending of Adur looks very much Vasconic (ur is water in modern Basque).

Important update (Feb 6):

It has been brought to my attention (see comments) that Apru is not the genuine Etruscan name of Venus-Aphrodite, it was Turan instead. Apru was claimed by linguist E. Beneviste as the root of the Etruscan-Latin month of April. In this theory, Apru would not be a genuine Etruscan word but the Etruscan version of Greek Aphrós, shortening of Aphrodite.

So we can pretty much ignore this Etruscan word. Yet all which was said on Aphrós and Adur stand and they are the core of the argumentation here, with Apru being less relevant.


In case anyone has any doubt Octavià does not support this hypothesis of course. I just had to give him credit for opening my eyes to the possible Greek-Basque connection aphrós-adur because I would not have been able to think of it without his suggestions. But he, of course, disagrees with all my conclusions in this entry.

February 3, 2011

Host of Earth-like planets found

NASA's Kepler observatory has found five planets that are Earth-like in all that is relevant: size and temperature. However the observations need to be confirmed. 

A total of 54 candidate planets were found in the habitable zones of their respective stars but most are quite larger than Earth. 

This is the result of surveying just 1/400 of the sky since February 2009, when the mission began. At about that time the "lightest exoplanet to date" was still twice the size of Earth, and not even in the habitable zone at all.

Source: Science Daily.

February 2, 2011

Some new Megalithic findings

Just to mention a couple of ongoing discoveries or research in the UK, both via Archaeology in Europe:

First, PhysOrg and Daily India report that a new henge has been found not far from Stonehenge. Not much more info is provided. 

Notice that henge in English archaeological language means what in the continent is called rondel or camp: an earthen structure with ditch and wooden enclosure, of Danubian origin. Stonehenge is not a henge but a (rather peculiar and elaborate) stone ring (said cromlech in the mainland) and these have probably a different origin, though it is not too clear which or how.

Then it is mentioned by BBC that archaeologist George Nash is asking for permission to dig in Guernsey's Delancey Park, because he has indications that there may be a gallery dolmen there, a kind of monument relatively rare in the Channel Islands (though they geographically do belong to the Megalithic zone, which reached up to the Seine river).

Amerindian autosomal genetics

For some reason I missed the alert for this new paper on Native American genetics, luckily Andrew blogged on it yesterday.

The authors make an effort to compare autosomal genetic structure with linguistic and geographic groups with some success, producing this nice-looking map for the k=7 level of analysis:

Sadly it is becoming more and more common to show the readers only one level (the one the authors prefer) of the structure analysis instead of the whole sequence, this appears to be intended to avoid critical analysis from the readers, who might well find that, say, k=9 is more to their linking or explains stuff that k=7 does not.

I must mention this older paper (Sija Wang 2007), which reaches to similar results offering much more complete information in general.

I also remember another paper from that epoch (2006-07) which dug down to k=16 or something like that. But sadly I cannot find it right now.

February 1, 2011

Iruña-Veleia: counter-graphology

One of the main arguments of the defamation campaign against archaeologists Eliseo Gil and Idoia Filloy and their company Lurmen was a graphological report which argued that the calligraphy of graffiti on a latrine created by the archaeologists, Eliseo Gil personally, in order to recreate for visitors the life in Veleia in Roman times was the same as the one(s) of the discovered shards. 

There were actually two reports, as the first one sinned of honesty and was inconclusive. Only the second one concluded that both calligraphies were the same. This second report has been heavily criticized by the academic association SOS Iruña-Veleia for being totally tendentious (and costing the taxpayer nothing less than €36,000, VAT included).

A detailed report in Spanish language of why this graphological report was wrong and abusive can be read HERE.

Same hand? Even if the intent is to imitate, I say no way.

Once demolished this "evidence", the only thing left to do is to demonstrate that the shards are genuinely old, for what there is already a judiciary order demanding that some of the shards be given to scientific police. There is also an offer by SOS Iruña-Veleia to pay the costs of a private analysis by a most respectful European company. 

And then it should be the time of payback, specially for us common Basque citizens who have been scammed by a gang of shameless manipulators into believing, against all evidence, that the most important archaeological findings in maybe decades are false

I think that the lest they can get for this power abuse is life penalty. I mean someone who is able to manipulate a whole nation or rather two (because Spain was also played here) into taking falsehood as truth and vice versa, does not deserve any mercy. 

This is what I call high treason: treason against the Basque people, treason against the European people, treason against truth and treason against science. Not to mention the harm done to the professionals in charge and to the whole Basque scholarly community, once rather advanced and now thrown into a shameful hole of darkness and misery for the petty desires of a bunch of smartasses.

These cowardly manipulators do not deserve any mercy, sincerely.

For background info on Iruña-Veleia please read:
Also in Spanish, please reach out to SOS Iruña-Veleia and in Basque there are two quite nice blogs: Ostraka euskalduna and Iruña-Veleia, gezurra ala egia?

More Austronesian genetics: Dayaks are mostly pre-Austronesian (as most other Austronesians)

I just had to mention a paper on Austronesian genetics at one of the great open access publications, Bio Med Central (BMC), and now I have to mention another at the other major open access magazine: Public Library of Science (PLoS):

Because good things always come in batches, right?

Well whatever the case, the Sea Dayaks or Iban people do not cluster well with Taiwan Aborigines or other possible source populations for the fabled Austronesian colonization of Island SE Asia. Nope, they cluster best with mainland SE Asia, notably Vietnamese, Thais and peninsular Malays.

For example, for autosomal DNA, we get the following graph (fig 2):

Where the Iban cluster best with some Indonesian (but not others) and Thais (again some but not others) but not with Taiwan Aborigines (and only poorly with Filipinos).

Not convinced? I cannot blame you because PC analysis suck and specially for autosomal genetics. They also provide a K=3 admixture analysis (fig. S1):

Here we can spot three components, neither of which is too specific. Still the red component seems strongest among Malaysian (not the Iban however), the blue component is most common among some Indonesians, while the green component is widespread by dominant in the mainland if anything (specially Japan/North China). Not too clear anyhow but for deeper clustering you probably want something else, like the HUGO paper.

Let's see the Y-DNA then (fig. 3):

This is more clear, right: here the Iban are almost like Vietnamese and then like other Sundaland Malays but not like Taiwan Aborigines nor Filipinos. So Y-DNA-wise they do not look particularly Austronesian recent arrivals but older arrivals from Indochina if anything.

MtDNA? Let's see:

Seems not again: Philippines and Taiwan are far away, while Sundaland, Orang Asli, Thais and Chinese are closer.

The authors conclude:

The majority of mtDNA haplogroups and the greatest proportion of NRY lineages identified in our Iban sample are associated with population movements that occurred prior to this expansion. More NRY haplogroups than mtDNA haplogroups were introduced into this population during the Neolithic expansion, but the proportion of NRY haplogroups attributed to this more recent event is still less than half of the total NRY haplogroups identified. Therefore, it appears that migrations during the Neolithic did not eradicate pre-Neolithic groups.

Another blow against Neolithic replacement nonsense.

Genetics of Batanic language speakers

The Tao (Yami) people are central to this research
There's a new open access paper on the genetics of some isolated Malayo-Polynesian speaking peoples of the islands between Philippines and Taiwan:

It is probably important for what it adds to the knowledge not just of these isolated peoples but specially of their neighbors and relatives through all SE Asia. 

There is a lot of information and emphasis on Y-DNA and much less so on mtDNA, probably indicating some bias on the side of the researchers. 

Critically molecular clock hunches are shown to be wrong again: 

Finally, artifacts dating 4,000 YBP, found on Orchid Island and indicating association with the Out of Taiwan hypothesis might be related to a pioneering stage of settlement, as most dating estimates inferred from DNA variation in our data set ranged between 100-3,000 YBP.

As if DNA age guesstimates are any better than archaeological hard evidence. Please, geneticists of the World, step down of the molecular clock silly pedestal as it's as feeble as the belief in creationism. Reaching conclusions based only or mostly on molecular clock conjectures only makes fools of yourselves.

Something as simple as undervaluing the Pan-Homo divergence by 25% (a systematic widespread error) will cause the errors you are displaying here, as the 4000 years BP are in fact a calibration point, not something you can even discuss based only on erudite (but typically wrong, unscientific and never demonstrated) algorithms.

The authors emphasize some Y-DNA connections between the Batanes or Philippines and the Tao (Yami) people of Orchid island but they choose to ignore the many other instances in which the Tao are more directly connected to Indonesians, Thai or the Taiwan Plain Tribe.

In any case a data mine for all interested: table S3 in particular has NJ trees for a number of major Austronesian/SE Asian Y-DNA haplogroups.

Aurochs mtDNA challenges bovine phylogeny

Long horned european wild ox
New research has genotyped the ancient mtDNA of a wild aurochs from Italy. Importantly, the research challenges current understanding of Bos taurus phylogeny, suggesting that clades T1, T3 and T4 are paraphiletic, or more precisely: that they cannot be resolved phylogenetically to full satisfaction because:

Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of the European cattle and aurochs mtDNA coding genomes revealed that a model allowing for polytomies is strongly supported over a strict bifurcating model (Bayes Factor >100). Therefore, the pattern of previously classified bovid clades and sub-clades is not supported, suggesting that recurrent mutations and short internal branches may limit meaningful evolutionary information.

The aurochs sequence falls within T3 but the authors warn against this classification because of the issues mentioned before.