March 29, 2012

On strike: blog closed the next 24 hrs

Update: strike journey ended already, you can read some details at or via my other blog.


As you may know a general strike has been called in the Basque Country and Galicia, and later another parallel one was also called in Spain by different unions. 

The strike is against the draconian social cuts and the retrograde ultra-capitalist destruction of workers' rights imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and implemented by the new ultra-conservative government (which has no significant more support that had when they were opposition a few months ago).

Therefore this blog will not be edited in the next 24 hrs. and I will not participate in any discussions.

March 28, 2012

Y-DNA from Afghanistan

Hazaras (source)
Afghanistan was one of those potentially key crossroads with only indirect sampling, mostly via ethnic relatives from Pakistan. Therefore we must welcome with a great applause the following paper, which fills a gap in our knowledge (next Burma, please):


Afghanistan has held a strategic position throughout history. It has been inhabited since the Paleolithic and later became a crossroad for expanding civilizations and empires. Afghanistan's location, history, and diverse ethnic groups present a unique opportunity to explore how nations and ethnic groups emerged, and how major cultural evolutions and technological developments in human history have influenced modern population structures. In this study we have analyzed, for the first time, the four major ethnic groups in present-day Afghanistan: Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, and Uzbek, using 52 binary markers and 19 short tandem repeats on the non-recombinant segment of the Y-chromosome. A total of 204 Afghan samples were investigated along with more than 8,500 samples from surrounding populations important to Afghanistan's history through migrations and conquests, including Iranians, Greeks, Indians, Middle Easterners, East Europeans, and East Asians. Our results suggest that all current Afghans largely share a heritage derived from a common unstructured ancestral population that could have emerged during the Neolithic revolution and the formation of the first farming communities. Our results also indicate that inter-Afghan differentiation started during the Bronze Age, probably driven by the formation of the first civilizations in the region. Later migrations and invasions into the region have been assimilated differentially among the ethnic groups, increasing inter-population genetic differences, and giving the Afghans a unique genetic diversity in Central Asia.

Fig. 1 - PCA derived from Y-chromosomal haplogroup frequencies

In my understanding the really interesting stuff is in the supplemental table 4, which lists all the tested haplogroups for the Afghan samples.

Large and medium samples (n>10) simplified (only largest haplogroups):
  • Hazara (n=60): 20 C3 (33%), 10 J2a* (17%), 6 J2a5 (10%), 4 R1a1a (7%), 3 B (5%), 3 E1b1b1c1 (5%),
  • Tajik (n=56): 17 R1a1a (30%) 9 J2a (14%), 5 O (9%), 3 H1a (5%)
  • Pashtun (n=49): 25 R1a1a (51%), 9 Q (18%), 6 L1c (12%), 3 G2c(6%)
  • Uzbek (n=17): 7 C3 (41%), 3 R1a1a (18%), 2 R1b1a2 (12%)
  • Baluch (n=13): 8 L1a (61%), 2 R2a (15%)
Small and tiny samples (n<10):
  • Norestani (n=5): 3 R1a1a, 1 R2a, 1 J2a*
  • Arab (n=3): 2 L1a, 1 R2a
  • Turkmen (n=1): 1 R1a1a

Hazara Y-DNA oddities (B and M1)

The Hazara Country (source) is the center of Afghanistan
I must say that what stroke me the most were the three Y-DNA B Hazaras. This is a lineage almost unreported in Eurasia and much less in a population that shows no other signs of African admixture. 

Supplementary table 1 lists all haplotypes and the three Y-DNA B Hazaras (two from Bamiyan and one from Ghor) have some differences: they are not recent relatives by patrilineage. Whenever the African lineage arrived to the area, it had since then some time to evolve and diverge locally.

Are we before yet another puzzling Out-of-Africa remnant like the East Asian Y-DNA DE (mostly D)? Or is something more recently arrived? If so, how did it reach such high frequencies among the Hazara (and only them)?

The Hazara sample also includes an individual with Y-DNA M1, which is in principle a Melanesian lineage, i.e. another haplogroup which should not be there, but this one from the opposite corner of the Old World.

Dominant lineages

Otherwise it seems evident that Y-DNA R1a1a dominates among Indoeuropean speakers (Pashtun, Tajik and Noristani), C3 among the Uzbek and Hazara and L1a among the Baluch and "Arab" (who seem identical to the Baluch).

J2a (maybe a Neolithic layer) is also important among Tayik and Hazaras, while Q is very important among Pashtuns (Q is most basally diverse in West Asia, in case you do not know, even if it is most frequent among Native Americans).

Aurignacian jaws are modern (Homo sapiens)

The adscription of the Aurignacian techno-culture in Europe to Homo sapiens (alias 'anatomically modern humans', or 'AMH' or 'modern humans' for short) was only indirectly supported, mostly by remains from Palestine (Ahmarian or Ahmiran culture, part of the wider 'Aurignacoid' complex of West Eurasia). 

Recently a jaw from England and some teeth from Italy were also alleged to support very early presence of our species in Europe. However the conclusions were controversial and the findings had, like Oase 1, no direct relation with Aurignacian or other Aurignacoid cultures (in fact the Italian teeth belonged to the Uluzzian, what is a very different debate).

Now however a couple of lower jaws from France seem to finally settle the matter regarding the authorship of Aurignacian:


There is a dearth of diagnostic human remains securely associated with the Early Aurignacian of western Europe, despite the presence of similarly aged early modern human remains from further east. One small and fragmentary sample of such remains consists of the two partial immature mandibles plus teeth from the Early Aurignacian of La Quina-Aval, Charente, France. The La Quina-Aval 4 mandible exhibits a prominent anterior symphyseal tuber symphyseos on a vertical symphysis and a narrow anterior dental arcade, both features of early modern humans. The dental remains from La Quina-Aval 1 to 4 (a dm1, 2 dm2, a P4 and a P4) are unexceptional in size and present occlusal configurations that combine early modern human features with a few retained ancestral ones. Securely dated to ∼33 ka 14C BP (∼38 ka cal BP), these remains serve to confirm the association of early modern humans with the Early Aurignacian in western Europe.

Found via Neanderfollia[cat].

March 27, 2012

Claim that some African matrilineages in Europe are pre-Neolithic

A new paper estimates that some 35% or the L(xM,N) lineages of Europe are prehistorical and even pre-Neolithic:


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages of macro-haplogroup L (excluding the derived L3 branches M and N) represent the majority of the typical sub-Saharan mtDNA variability. In Europe, these mtDNAs account for <1% of the total but, when analyzed at the level of control region, they show no signals of having evolved within the European continent, an observation that is compatible with a recent arrival from the African continent. To further evaluate this issue, we analyzed 69 mitochondrial genomes belonging to various L sublineages from a wide range of European populations. Phylogeographic analyses showed that ∼65% of the European L lineages most likely arrived in rather recent historical times, including the Romanization period, the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily, and during the period of the Atlantic slave trade. However, the remaining 35% of L mtDNAs form European-specific subclades, revealing that there was gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa toward Europe as early as 11,000 yr ago.

See also the press release at Eureka Alert.

I do not have access but it seems obvious that the authors are using molecular-clock-o-logy, which is not really reliable, depending on too many assumptions. However they tend to fail towards too recent, so maybe their estimates of 11 Ka can be in fact something like 22 Ka and therefore consistent with the more than likely interactions between SW Europe and NW Africa at the genesis of Oranian culture, which is probably the origin of SW European-derived mtDNA in North Africa.


I got a copy and some stuff is indeed informative:

Fig. 1 spread of (a) paragroup L(xM,N) and (b) L1 (crosses mark sampling sites)

Fig. 3 apportion of the L(xM,N) lineages and of the probable origin regions

The most common lineages are L1b and L2a.

Most European L1b appears to have spread from the Iberian peninsula where it is most concentrated in the area of Salamanca, being loosely consistent with other North African genetic presence in the peninsula, generally concentrated in the Western third (and with some even greater frequency in the mountain areas of the old Kingdom of León. Some of these lineages have not been found among a sample of 73 L1b mitogenomes from Africans and African Americans (fig. 2), what brings the authors to consider them potentially local European (or in some cases NW African) developments. These are:
  • L1b1a11 (Slovenia, Switzerland and Ireland), its sister lineages are found one in Jordan (unnamed) and another (L1b1a3) among Nigerians, Gabonese, African-Americans and some Portuguese.
  • L1b1a6a (Portugal, Spain and Britain): just one branch of several, all the others in L1b1a6 are West African
  • L1b1a9 (Spain, Italy, France and Morocco): either European or NW African
  • L1b1a13 (Tunisia and Italy): surely Tunisian originally
  • L1b1a12 (Tunisia, Spain and Portugal): again surely original from Tunisia
  • L1b1a14 (Italy and France)
  • L1b1a8 (Spain and Russia)
Another very characteristic and also arguably European-specific lineage is L3d1b1a, which is found only in Italy.

While the authors do not mention it, I think that Chandler 2005 spotted an L3d2 in Epipaleolithic Portugal (originally reported as "N"). However, using only the HVS region, the exact adscription is always somewhat dubious.

Also they performed an Structure analysis (fig. 4) and found that the carriers of the allegedly autochthonous European L lineages displayed very low to zero African affinity (and also near zero East Asian one) while those with the probably recent L lineages had more African and East Asian admixture (East Asian in this case is proxy for Native American most likely, indicating creole origin from America), although the apportions varied from individual to individual. The strength of this test can only be valid for very recent arrivals anyhow, otherwise the African autosomal genetics would be diluted beyond detection in a couple of centuries or so.

March 26, 2012

Western Great Rift is 15 Ma. older than believed

This is potentially an important discovery that may affect the chronological frame of the simians (what ultimately include us also).

The Western section of the Great Rift (or East African Rift) is not a lot younger than the Eastern section, as was believed until now, but of the same age (c. 25 million years).


The East African Rift System transects the anomalously high-elevation Ethiopian and East African plateaux that together form part of the 6,000-km-long African superswell structure. Rifting putatively developed as a result of mantle plume activity that initiated under eastern Africa. The mantle activity has caused topographic uplift that has been connected to African Cenozoic climate change and faunal evolution. The rift is traditionally interpreted to be composed of two distinct segments: an older, volcanically active eastern branch and a younger, less volcanic western branch. Here, we show that initiation of rifting in the western branch began more than 14 million years earlier than previously thought, contemporaneously with the eastern branch. We use a combination of detrital zircon geochronology, tephro- and magnetostratigraphy, along with analyses of past river flow recorded in sedimentary rocks from the Rukwa Rift Basin, Tanzania, to constrain the timing of rifting, magmatism and drainage development in this part of the western branch. We find that rift-related volcanism and lake development had begun by about 25million years ago. These events were preceded by pediment development and a fluvial drainage reversal that we suggest records the onset of topographic uplift caused by the African superswell. We conclude that uplift of eastern Africa was more widespread and synchronous than previously recognized.

Research area: Rukwa Rift

You can also read the press release at Michigan State University (fragment follows):
This study provides new evidence that the two rift segments developed at about the same time, nearly doubling the initiation age of the western branch and the timing of uplift in this region of East Africa. 

“A key piece of evidence in this study is the discovery of approximately 25 million-year-old lake and river deposits in the Rukwa Rift that preserve abundant volcanic ash and vertebrate fossils,” Roberts said.

These deposits include some of the earliest anthropoid primates yet found in the rift, added Nancy Stevens of Ohio University.

The findings imply that around 25 to 30 million years ago, the broad uplift of East Africa occurred and re-arranged the flow of large rivers such as the Congo and the Nile to create the distinct landscapes and climates that mark Africa today.

Hat tip to Pileta.

March 21, 2012

Mitochondrial DNA survey of some Altaic peoples in the broader context

The authors of this open-access paper surveyed Kazakhs from Altai and Barguts from Inner Mongolia, comparing them with previous data of other nearby peoples and even the distant Iranians.

The really novel data is of course in the list of mtDNA haplogroups found among these two populations, which is listed in table 1. While Kazakhs have 40% of Western lineages (H, U, J and others), the Barguts only display some 8% (exclusively U and HV clades).

In addition they perform a somewhat interesting comparison with other populations, mostly other Altaic-speakers:

Fig. 1 - PC analysis, color-coded for languages

The two clusters marked in the PC1-2 graph also appear in the PC2-3 graph, what means that they are very homogeneous in fact. Maybe the Sojots were once Mongol speakers and the Turkic speakers grouped with Evenks and Todjins were once Tungusic speakers, I guess.

Also the paper provides what they claim to be a complete tree of haplogroup B4'5:

Fig. 3 - click to expand
Red: East Asian, Orange and Yellow: SE Asian, Blue: North Asian, Purple: Native American
See original for full legend

The also provide some potentially very useful information on haplogroups R9c (including F), N9a, M9, M10, M11 and M13'46'61 (found as singletons in the sampled populations), for which they provide phylogenetic trees in the supplementary materials.

Very brief notes on these:
  • R9c1 (the sibling of F) is most common in Philippines (3.3–5.7%) and Abor (11%). Frequencies decay as we move northwards.
  • F2 is most common in Thailand (2.4–5.4%) and then in China (1.9–3.3%). The Bargut singleton branch is apparently a new clade (F2e proposed)
  • N9a is most common in Japan (4.6%), Korea (3.9%), China (2.8%) and Mongolia (2.1%), with less important presence in Island SE Asia and Eastern Europe.
  • M10 is a rare East Asian clade with very rare cases in East Europe.
  • M11 is also a rare East Asian clade found from Altai to Japan.
  • M13 has two branches, one (M13a) most diverse in Tibet (and often found in East Asia) while the other one (M13b) is restricted to Malaysian aboriginal peoples.
  • M9 also has two branches: E is found essentially in Island SE Asia and Taiwan aborigines, while M9a'b is apparently also centered in Tibet and scattered through East Asia and Hymalayan parts of South Asia. They propose that M9a1a1 spread to North Asia from South China after the LGM (note: I do not necessarily subscribe this age estimate).

Update (May 23):

In order to illustrate the discussion (see comments) I made this map of the "Evenk cluster" which I suspect was first Evenk-speaker or otherwise ethnically homogeneous before the Turkic expansion (since less than 2000 years ago):

The most notable feature is that it seems to be more northernly or oriented to Central Siberia than the other populations. It's a Siberian-Taiga specific cluster, while most of the other Altaic populations are steppe dwellers instead. Compare with this map of the taiga:

They overlap very well, right?

40,000 years old site found in Henan, China

I can't say much more by the moment: the People's Daily article is too short to discern any further implications. By the age however it is very probable, in my opinion, that it is a former camp of our species, Homo sapiens. 

The site of Laonainaimiao is at what is described as a scenic spot in the outskirts of the city of Zhengzhou (Henan, China). The findings are described as stone artifacts, bone wares, all kinds of animal bones and more than 20 fire relics.

Bronze Age temple of Tel Haror, Palestine

The Archaeology Network mentions the finding of a pre-Jewish temple at Tel Haror, near Beersheba, dated to c. 1800-1550.

The finding is interesting because of the many sacrificial burials of young dogs and corvids. Puppies were ritually slaughtered in some West Asian religious rituals, the use of corvids is not documented however. It is also known that the Jewish mythological text declared both animals impure and that it banished the ritual of slaughtering dog cubs by breaking their necks. 

March 20, 2012

Escaping Christian persecution: Norway's Pagan temple buried before the religious fanatics could destroy it. Now urban developers may flatten it

Artist rendering (credit: Credit: Preben Rønne, Science Museum/NTNU)
I seldom write on Iron Age, never mind the Middle Ages, but this finding has really touched me: a Pagan temple was unearthed in Ranheim, not far from Trondheim (Norway). Its last community run away from Christian intolerance, as is attested by the sagas, but first buried their holy precinct so the theists could not destroy and profane it with their crosses and exotic rituals.

The temple which may have been built c. 400 CE, was used for many centuries and consisted of:
... a stone-set "sacrificial altar" and also traces of a "pole building" that probably housed idols in the form of sticks with carved faces of Thor, Odin, Frey and Freya. Deceased relatives of high rank were also portrayed in this way and attended. Nearby, the archaeologists also uncovered a procession route.
At first researchers thought it could be some sort of burial mound but they eventually recognized it as a temple.

The members of this community, as attested by historical sources, were probably among the many to flee to Iceland, where there was initially more tolerance. It was in Iceland in fact where many of these sagas were written.

The temple was probably buried under the reign of the first recorded King of Norway, Harald Fairhair (872-930).

The temple may now be destroyed by urban development if something does not stop it quick. Archaeologist Prebben Rønne said:

The location of the [planned] housing could easily be adapted to this unique cultural heritage [site], without anyone losing their residential lots. It could be an attraction for new residents, telling them much about the history of the facility over 1000 years ago. Unfortunately, housing construction is now underway.

It would be indeed a pity and a crime against heritage if the construction is not stopped immediately. 

Sources and further reading: The Archaeology News Network, Yahoo! News.

Brown eyed Neanderthals of Croatia

Since years ago, when one Neanderthal individual from Gibraltar was identified as having reddish hair color (but not via the Homo sapiens alleles but a different one of their own), some authors have idealized Neanderthals as hyper-white. For example the Gibraltar kid whose reconstruction is pictured at the right, whose skin looks unhealthily way too pale to be living in Andalusia (the Ice Age would not affect solar radiation in principle, only temperature).

Now other researchers have inferred that the Neanderthals from Vindija cave (Croatia) probably had brown eyes, hair and even skin, which is described as tawny, a light brown/orange shade.

The paper is widely discussed at a free article in Science magazine, titled: Were some Neanderthals blue eyed girls?, where the likes of Lalueza-Fox and John Hawks ponder the conclusions, rather critically. 

Of course, the conclusions are far from straightforward:

One complication is that traits such as hair color are controlled by multiple genes. To determine the cumulative impact of multiple genes on one trait, the authors assumed they could simply add together the impact of individual genes. The female Neandertal known as Vi33.26, for example, had seven genes for brown eyes, one for "not-brown" eyes, three for blue eyes, and four for "not-blue eyes." By the researchers' reckoning, that means a six-gene balance in favor of brown and a negative balance for blue, so Vi33.26's eyes were probably brown. According to this method, all three Neandertals had a dark complexion and brown eyes, and although one was red-haired, two sported brown locks. 

They may well be right in regards to the eyes, although we really know way too little on human pigmentation as of now, never mind Neanderthal peculiarities, to be certain at all. In any case, considering that modern Europeans also display variety of eye and hair colors, I see no reason not to imagine that Neanderthals also had dark eyes and hair.

Those traits are after all non-adaptive or mostly so. Instead skin color is key for survival. So I am reluctant to accept tawny as a valid answer for skin color, at least in most of the shades suggested. Very few people if any have tawny skin color today at 45 degrees North, roughly the latitude of Vindija. And that is because of an adaptive reason: the human need to synthesize normally vitamin D using solar energy at the skin (it can also be ingested from fish mostly but it's not as reliable in the long run).

Surely Neanderthals were also biological conditioned in that same way. Although now that I think of it I have never seen a paper stating it, just the same that I have never seen a paper that conclusively argues that Neanderthals lacked fur as we do, being our nearest cousins it is logical to think that they were a lot like ourselves. 

But regardless of the thornier issue of skin color, it's probable that at least many Neanderthals had brown eyes and dark hair and also a less hyper-pale skin shade than often misrepresented. In this sense I welcome the news because painting Neanderthals as ultra-Nordics, when they lived largely in Southern Europe and even West Asia was really overdoing it towards the side of pseudoscience. 

Synthesis of Roslyn Frank's conference Bergara 2011

Peripheral Europeans are high in blood type O, low in B and A
I just got notice that the Power Point presentation of the conference by Dr. Roslyn M. Frank (Iowa University) in Bergara (Gipuzkoa, Basque Country) last year is available for download at her page (you need an account, which is free and easy to make).

The document is in Basque and Spanish but she makes a nice synthesis in English at her page:
The talk is an overview of the data, genetic, archaeological and linguistic, which support the Paleolithic Continuity Refuguim Theory (PCRT) of European prehistory. More specifically, based on the findings of genetics (studies of Y-chromosome and mtDNA), the following hypothesis has been brought forward for testing. It argues that during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the hunter-gatherers of Europe retreated to the south of Europe, settling into three refugia, one in the Balkans, one in the Ukraine and a third in the Franco-Cantabrian zone, a geographic location where the Basque people and their language have survived.

According to the results of various teams of geneticists, at the end of the LGM along with the warming of the climate that ensued, the hunter-gatherers inhabiting this refuge slowly moved north and westward to take advantage of the food resources in the newly opened territories. Studies of Basque DNA (paternally transmitted Y-chromosome and maternally transmitted mtDNA) have shown significant similarities between Basques and populations inhabiting present and former Celtic-speaking zones along the Atlantic Façade. Furthermore, various haplogroups found among the Basques show up in other populations of European descent, leading the geneticists to argue that this situation might best be explained by positing out-migration from this zone over a period of several thousands of years, starting at the end of the LGM.

Moreover, it follows that members of Basque-speaking population of this zone might well trace their descent from the same populations that began to move out of this geographical region as the ice sheets retreated. 
Frequencies of the d allele of Rh-, a typical European marker
In 2006, a multidisciplinary team of researchers –composed of geographers, archaeologists and geneticists, namely, Dr. William Davies, Dr. Paul Pettitt, Dr. Lee Hazelwood and Dr. Martin Richards coordinated by Dr. Clive Gamble– described the situation this way:
“A major population expansion occurred in Western Europe during the Late Glacial (15-11.5ka CAL PB) as the OIS2 ice sheets retreated and unglaciated areas in the north became available for re-settlement. Phlylogeographic analysis using molecular evidence assigns 60% of the European mitochondrial DNA lineages (Richards et al. 2000), and an even higher proportion of West European Y-chromosome lineages (Semino et al. 2000), to a population bottleneck prior to an expansion from southwest to northern Europe (Torroni et al. 1998; Torroni et al. 2001; Achilli et al. 2004; Rootsi et al. 2004; Pereira et al. 2005)” (Gamble et al. 2006: 1-2).

The key question posed by the research concerns the language that was being spoken by the hunter-gatherer populations when they moved out of this refuge. Gamble et al. was the first team of researchers to pose this question explicitly:

“The growing evidence that the major signal in European genetic lineages predates the Neolithic, however, creates serious problems for the agriculturalist perspective. If western Europe was, to a large extent, repopulated from northeast Iberia [Franco-Cantabrian zone] then, since place-name evidence suggests that people in this source region spoke languages related to Basque before the advent of Indo-European, the obvious corollary would seem to be that the expanding human groups should have been Basque speakers” (Gamble et al. 2005: 209).

The presentation lays out the methodology has been developed to test the validity of the corollary that Gamble et al. set forth in 2005. The latter section of the .pdf discusses the methodology and applies it to a concrete data set. The approach is a comparative one. It takes morpho-syntactic elements classified as Proto-Indo-European and compares them to what appear to be their counterparts in Euskara. Tests are then applied to determine the nature of the lineage of the two sets of morphemes in question. The PIE elements are ones recognized as common across IE languages and, therefore, as constituting the most archaic strata of these languages. However, until now IE research model has not sought to explain the origin of the elements themselves.

Keeping in mind the results of the genetic studies cited above, the Basque language becomes a possible candidate for additional comparative work. Moreover, by focusing on reconstructing morphemic lineages, not languages, the PCRT approach to the data allows for a more fine-grained analysis of the linguistic evidence. 
Besides, the presentation also mentions the constitution of a PCRT academic working group composed by some 18 people, mostly academic specialists. By country:
  • Basque Country: Dr. M. Martínez de Pancorbo, Dr. S. Cardoso, Dr. J. Mejuto, Dr. J.M. Elexpuru, Dr. K. Van Den Driessche, Dr. J. Artiñano, Jon Maia, Fredi Paia and X. Agote.
  • Portugal: Dr. L. Pereira and Dr. F. Silva
  • Britain: Dr. C. Gamble and Dr. C. Ruggles
  • Belgium: Dr. N. Gontier, Dr. M. Germanpré
  • Australia: Dr. Andrew Smith, Dr. Joanne Paddick
  • USA: Dr. Roslyn M. Frank
But honestly, while I do agree with most of what she says and I find the constitution of the PCRT working group most interesting, I also thought it was a nice occasion to copy-paste some of those old maps of the proto-genetics era of blood groups that adorn this entry as well as the original document. They are still relevant, mind you.

March 19, 2012

Another matrilineage spawning from the Franco-Cantabrian Region: HV4a1a

Interesting and straight to the point: that can be said of this new paper. That and that a number of high profile geneticists have co-authored it (Olivieri, Behar, Achilli, Torroni and Salas). The only less known name is in fact that of the lead author:

The finding here is that along with many H subclades and probably V, which have been discussed in older studies, the lineage HV4a1a seems to have originated in the Franco-Cantabrian region, with branches to North-West Europe and, secondarily, South Italy, as can be seen in fig. 1:

Notice that the territory under French jurisdiction has been sampled much more sparsely than that under Spanish rule. This surely explains that most of the apparent diversity is located in the Cantabrian strip and not in Gascony, Occitania or otherwise in French territory. 

Number of known basal subclades of HV4a1a per Upper Paleolithic province:
  • Franco Cantabrian region: 9.5
  • Iberian province: 3
  • NW Europe: 3
  • Italy: 0.5
Or maybe you prefer the representation in fig. 2:

HV4 overall may have originated in or near Eastern Europe however, where most of the basal diversity seems to be.

Admixture in Latin America

The primary purpose of this new study is to test an ancestry informative marker (AIM) set for use in America, however the results are of general interest, as they surveyed much of South America, from Chile to Venezuela.

They selected a group of AIMs from Native American populations from Mexico, Peru and Bolivia and used Mestizo samples, together with others from Europe and Africa in order to refine their AIM set. Then they proceeded to test it in South American samples of Mestizo, Afroamerican and Native American self-identification.

The result is synthesized in figure 6:

Purple and red tags indicate American samples used in the generation of the AIM set

There is some more information in the text and figures of the paper, which you may find an interesting read.

March 17, 2012

Blogger now redirects all blogs to state adresses and half the gadgets don't work

You may have noticed that all Blogger blogs you're visiting have now the local state address of the jurisdiction you are under, so if for example you're in Sweden, this blog should show up as: 

instead of the proper address which is

This is a big problem for links and stuff and it is already showing up in many gadgets that do not work properly anymore, for example the followers' window on the right or even something as simple as the quick edit button under each post because, even if I am the author, I can only watch my blog and you blog and every Blogger blog as:


and not anymore under the universal


Besides of the technical issues, which I imagine that they will work out eventually, the fact of having an adress ending with the locator of the state that is invading my country doesn't please me at all. 

But most worrisome is why is Blogger changing this:

Q: Why is this happening?
A: We are doing this to provide more support for managing content locally. If we receive a removal request that violates local law, that content may no longer be available to readers on local domains where those laws apply. This update is in line with our approach to free expression and controversial content, which hasn’t changed.

In other words: bending to the possible censorship demands from the states.

I just discovered this tonight so I will have to sleep over it but I think this means that I will be migrating to Wordpress or some other resource. 

After an arbitrary, never explained total closure of my Google account not long ago, which was eventually solved by ringing up from a borrowed mobile phone (can't Google understand that I do not have a damn cell phone?) but with extremely bad robotic attention in any case, I became concerned about my dependency on a single source, Google, for much of my Internet life (mostly mail and blogging but that's a lot). 

It's always bad when you are too dependent on a single resource: that's why species go extinct and civilizations collapse: lack of diversity, lack of options. So when Google+ came I decided to stay away less that all my Google account could be scrapped overnight without any explanation. 

So right now I'm considering seriously a migration before I have to repent of my laziness. 

Anyhow, in the meanwhile, please take notice of this trick:

Q. Can users outside of the United States still access the service’s .com domains?
A. Yes, we allow anyone to view the .com version of a Blogger blog by typing: http://[blogname] – which always goes to the .com version of the blog. The “no country redirect” (ncr) will temporarily prevent Blogger from redirecting readers to the local version of the blog.

Whatever they say, you may want to do it as user as well, specially if you love your quick edit buttons.

Update (Mar 17): I have already made a copy of this blog at Wordpress. I still fee a bit uncertain about migration but at the very least I am sure I do not want the content of this blog to vanish from public access (and my own access) randomly without further explanation.

March 16, 2012

Echoes from the Past (Mar 16)

You know: the stuff that should have been commented if I was perfect or a paid professional - but was not:


Pigmentation reasonably predicted

Yan Klimentidis mentions today that, according to a new paper (Cerqueira 2012, pay per view) as much as 64% of skin pigmentation can be predicted from genes (many of them), reaching to as much as 94% with freckles. The rate of success is much lower however for hair and eye color (44% and 36% respectively).

Are Ethiopians genetically adapted to high altitudes?

I'm generally skeptic of claims of genetic adaption to high altitudes when it does not seem to have ever been demonstrated that this adaption is genetic and not just mere biological flexibility caused by living in the area since childhood. In any case, L. Scheinfeldt 2012 (open access) claims that some candidate genes have been identified for the Amhara.

Taurine cattle could descend from as few as 80 female founders ··> R. Bollognino 2012 (ppv).

Human Evolution

Honey and human evolution: surely you never thought about it before, right? Nutritional anthropologist A. Crittenden thinks that honey may have been more important than meat, based on Hadza practices, which include symbiosis (cooperation) with a bird ··> The Rebel Yell.

Did prehistoric climate change affect human evolution the same as other animals? That is what J.R. Stewart and C.B. Stringer argue in a paper (ppv) ··> Science Daily.


Speculating about Still Bay culture (South Africa) and climate change ··> article by archaeologist J. Tolleson at Nature.

These marks are the first evidence of humans in Ohio
First evidence of hunting in Ohio c. 13,500 years ago ··> Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Universal rock art script? David Sánchez mentions again[es] (I commented in 2010 too) the unusual hypothesisi of G. von Petzinger on the possibility that some sort of universal script used by hunter-gatherers around the world, as the markings on the walls appear to be roughly the same everywhere. I am rather skeptic though but curious anyhow. Among the links provided some are in English: video, The Guardian, New Scientist, UVic Space and Cambridge University.

Neolithic and Chalcolithic

One of the dolmens found in Alcónetar
Göbekli Tepe attracted worshipers from 500 kilometers around: from Cappadocia and the border of Armenia ··> Live Science. 

Some Neolithic settlers may have arrived to Iberia from North Africa (specifically Oran area) ··> Archaeology News Network.

Chalcolithic settlement found in Galicia, between Carballo and Berdoias, not far from the mamoa (dolmen) of O Valouco, as a highway was being built ··> La Voz de Galicia[es].

Two dolmens found in Alcónetar (Extremadura, Spain) as the water of the reservoir of Alcántara, one of the largest in Europe, recede because of unprecedented drought ··> Hoy[es].

March 14, 2012

Anomalous Paleolithic skull from South China

This is sure going to cause some heated debates:

See also the press release (Eureka Alert) and a photo gallery (Live Science).

And this is what is all about:

It's not the skull of Darth Vader, although I know you thought so as soon as you saw it, but actually that of a person living some 14,000 years ago at Longling cave, known as Longlin 1.

The authors of the paper argue on craniometric grounds that the specimen may not be a modern human, however in all PC analysis the skull falls (oddly enough) within or very close to modern human clusters. Only in the PC3 some differences show up. 

In fact the closest among those skulls analyzed in fig. 8 is Mai Da Nuoc[PDF], an Early Hoabinhian skull from nearby Vietnam, which is claimed to be Australoid (but does not look at all like the Australian skulls I'm familiar with, normally quite broader).

In fact I have been searching and I found at least one skull that looks a lot like Longlin 1: Peñón woman from Mexico:

She's one of a number of Paleoindian skulls that have puzzled prehistorians because they are not quite like most modern Native American skulls. However to my eyes, the Peñuelas skull (Chile) skull is not that different, even if it is also more like modern Native American ones.

Also to my eyes, those very marked cheek bones (regardless of whether they may have been produced by mastication) remind me of one of the most characteristic traits of the so-called Mongoloid type (which is quite unreal and plural in fact): prominent cheekbones that give the face a flat appearance.

But I'll leave that to the experts. Not worth bumping heads for something that may well be partly epigenetic/environmental for all I know.

What I do not see is any ground for the claims of the authors that it could be a newly found species. They even have worked a fancy reconstruction that makes Longlin 1 to look like a well-known reconstruction (by the same author) of the notorious Hobbit (when the skulls do not look at all similar):

Credit: Peter Schouten (info)

Notice please how any trait that could make him look Mongoloid (East Asian or Native American) has been scrapped from the reconstruction: he has dark brown skin, beard (which could well have been shaven by a professional just yesterday) and a hairy body, a very broad nose that does not fit at all with the small triangular orifice, absolute lack of epicanthic fold - plus very small ears that make him look odd. 

Another analyzed skull from the same area is Maludong 1704, of which only the vault remains. This one overlaps in the analysis (fig. 9) with Crô-Magnon 1, however when more samples are added (fig. 10) some archaic skulls (H. erectus) also show up close, as do again CM1, early African H. sapiens and Nazlet Khater 2. 

For me, with due caution, modern proto-Mongoloid H. sapiens (anomalous) but your call: the debate is served.

Update (Mar 17): I must mention that the excellent anthropological artist Zaender (which I have mentioned before) has also produced his own versions of the Maludong people without most of the exotic fancy of Schouten's reconstruction:

Credit Zaender

He has another example at his blog: Regional Ancestry Bands.

The ears still look small to me and the nose and lips unnecessarily too wide but it is probably more correct re. eyes and hair.

In any case it makes evident that it's very difficult to actually reconstruct a face from just a skull when all the expressiveness and even most ethnic traits are in the flesh and skin, being impossible to discern from a mere skull.

Update (Mar 30):

Another interesting reconstruction by Zaender (he drew the nose smaller on my suggestion):

Credit: Zaender

See the discussion below and at his blog.

Also very interesting and surely important is the argumentation by Biological Anthropologist A.P. Van Arsdale that the main diveregent measure is the zygomatic bone but this one is fractured in several points, what may distort the results singnificantly:

Otherwise the skull fits quite well with modern East Asian metrics.

Basque and Gascon Y-DNA survey

Using the same nice sampling strategy as in the recent mtDNA paper by Behar et al., researchers from the same team have now published on Y-DNA:

Begoña Martínez Cruz, Evidence of pre-Roman tribal genetic structure in Basques from uniparentally inherited markers. PNAS 2012. Pay per view (for 6 months or outright free in some world regions). 
Basque people have received considerable attention from anthropologists, geneticists and linguists during the last century due to the singularity of their language and to other cultural and biological characteristics. Despite the multidisciplinary efforts performed to address the questions of the origin, uniqueness and heterogeneity of Basques, the genetic studies performed up to now have suffered from a weak study-design where populations are not analyzed in an adequate geographic and population context. To address the former questions and to overcome these design limitations, we have analyzed the uniparentally inherited markers (Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA) of ∼900 individuals from 18 populations, including those where Basque is currently spoken and populations from adjacent regions where Basque might have been spoken in historical times. Our results indicate that Basque-speaking populations fall within the genetic Western European gene pool and they are similar to geographically surrounding non-Basque populations, and also that their genetic uniqueness is based on a lower amount of external influences compared to other Iberians and French populations. Our data suggest that the genetic heterogeneity and structure observed in the Basque region results from pre-Roman tribal structure related to geography and might be linked to the increased complexity of emerging societies during the Bronze Age. The rough overlap of the pre-Roman tribe location and the current dialect limits supports the notion that the environmental diversity in the region has played a recurrent role in cultural differentiation and ethnogenesis at different time periods.

I do not have a copy yet, so I can only discuss the Y-DNA pool as such, borrowed from Dienekes:

Click to expand
Codes: BIG, Bigorre; BEA, Béarn; CHA, Chalosse; ZMI, Lapurdi/Baztan; NLA,Lapurdi Nafarroa; SOU, Zuberoa; RON, Roncal and Salazar valleys; NCO, CentralWestern Nafarroa; NNO, North Western Nafarroa; GUI, Gipuzkoa; GSO, SouthWestern Gipuzkoa; ALA, Araba; BBA, Bizkaia; BOC, Western Bizkaia; CAN,Cantabria; BUR, Burgos; RIO, La Rioja; NAR, North Aragon.

R1b (South Clade)

The dominant lineage is, of course, R1b1a2a1a1b (P312/S116), which is also the most important R1b sublineage worldwide, which I have called in the past the South Clade and will call hereafter as R1b-S, followed when needed by the last letters and digits of the subclade (see also ISOGG). This lineage is widespread in Western Europe, specially in the South-West. Maps from a previous entry (based on Myres 2010 data):

Naming convention is obsolete but distinctions remain (only R1b1a2-M269 is considered).
Typo: M529, also known as L21, is wrongly written as M259.

Approximate dominance of R1b-S (red) and R1b-N (blue).
Basque Country was not sampled in Myres 2010, should be darker red in fact.

Not only the lineage is dominant by numbers but also important in diversity. Per the last revision, R1b-S has three main known sublineages:
  • R1b-S-2  (Z196), which includes:
    • R1b-S-2a (M153): Basques and Gascons almost exclusively
    • R1b-S-2b  (L176.2/S179.2): Gascons and Catalans specially, but more widespread
  • R1b-S-3  (S28/U152): Not too frequent but neither rare either among Basques and Gascons (more common in Pyrenean Navarre: RON and NNO) but widespread through mainland Europe, specially Italy (in plain blue in the first map).
  • R1b-S-4  (L21/M529/S145, L459): Often known as the Irish clade, is not restricted to Ireland at all but does have a mostly Atlantic distribution (West France, England...). Now we come to know that it is also quite common among Basques and Gascons (yes: this is novel data), reaching >5% among all them (but not in the border areas of CAN, BUR and NAR). In turquoise shades in the first map
The South Clade has other formally described three basal (?) sublineages per ISOGG, one described as "private" (very minor) and the other, without branches, may also be private or at least rare enough - none of them was tested for in this survey in any case. It also has lots of  unknown asterisk R1b1a2a1a1b*, what may hide huge basal diversity (or not but probably it does). This is a known problem for all SW European R1b and it does include a good deal of Basque Y-DNA as well, even if Basques have been researched somewhat more than your usual Iberian or French. 

All this reinforces my idea of R1b-S being original from the Franco-Cantabrian Region and scattered with, possibly, Magdalenian culture. Other possibilities may exist but in any case it requires an origin in SW Europe, where it is quite obviously most basally diverse. You cannot just argue R1b1a2-M269 as a whole, you need to specifically explain R1b1a2a1a1b-P312/S116 on its own merits and that demands to talk about the prehistory of SW Europe. 

Other lineages

The most common Neolithic (??) lineage is by far I2a1a (the Sardinian clade), which is present in all samples excepted Bigorre, being >5% in many of them (Bearn, Dax, all Northern Basque Country, most of Navarre, Cantabria, Rioja and North Aragon - less important in the Western Basque Country however). 

Then, of the Mediterranean type, J2a comes next, being important in parts of Navarre, Rioja and Burgos. Less relevant but still deserving mention are E1b-V65 (Araba) and T (Cantabria).

The other two major I subclades are also fairly represented in the Basque/Gascon area, even if not as common as the Sardinian variant. I2a2a (typical of Low Germany) is found  at >5% frequencies in Gascony (Bigorre and Dax), while I1 (typical of Scandinavia) is found (>5%) in Araba. Neither of them looks like Viking legacy at all.

This, together with the practical absence (some but very low frequencies) of R1b-N and R1a makes me think that the distribution of Y-DNA I in general is at least partly Paleolithic and not Neolithic, regardless that chance (drift) has concentrated it in some areas. But hard to say based only on this data.

Also R1b1a2a* (L23) must be mentioned, as it is found (>5%) in Bigorre, with some presence in other areas (Bearn, Lapurdi, Rioja). It may be a Neolithic arrival from, ultimately, Anatolia or a remnant of Upper Paleolithic flows.

Other Neolithic lineages (E1b-V13 or G, documented in ancient DNA from Languedoc or Catalonia) have almost no presence in the Basque/Gascon area. Uralic haplogroup N is found 2/54 in Rioja (maybe a Celtic/Indoeuropean legacy?) and as singleton (erratic) in Zuberoa.

Junk scholastic paper promotes Neolithic replacement doctrine

This argument on whether Europeans descend mostly from Paleolithic aborigines or Neolithic immigrants is becoming ideological and going beyond the scientific issue of fact-checking and having different opinions. Actually facts are being selected and manipulated and interpretations are becoming truly incompatible.

What for me means that modern Central Europeans are clearly NOT direct descendants of Neolithic settlers, who had much greater abundance of rare lineages like N1a, means for Qiaomei Fu that they were indeed the ancestors.

Qiaomei Fu has recycled the Neolithic, Epipaleolithic and Forest Neolithic (said to be foragers but not really true) aDNA from Haak 2005 and 2010, Sampietro 2007, Bramanti 2009, Krause 2010, Deguilloux 2011, Lacan 2011 and Gamba 2011. See Jean Manco's Ancient Eurasian DNA page for more details.

From the text, it appears that they are using here mostly Bramanti's 2009 sample, with an extra sample from Krause (Kostenki's U2). This may be justified up to a point because Bramanti has been one of the few to test for coding region markers, so most of the other samples haplogroup assignations are questionable (but they are often not U, which is clearly defined in the HVS-I mutational set). However the choice of discarding Italian data from Caramelli 2005, which clearly demonstrated R0(xH) in one sample and N* in another, is not justifiable on any grounds.

It is not justifiable either that no space is dedicated to discuss the sample, why did they chose these or those and why did they ignore the others. In such non-existent space they could have discussed the 19 known true Paleolithic European samples, not considered by them, that are definitely not U, even if we can't know for sure (with some exceptions) what exactly they were.

In that space they could have also discussed why they chose to consider Forest Neolithic peoples from the Baltic as "hunter-gatherers" or how, excluding them their sample is reduced to n=11, of which all are U. Adding to these two more from Chandler 2005, the overall European true-Paleolithic mtDNA count is, if my maths are correct, n=32, of which 13 are U variants (six U5, four U4, two U* and one U2). As mentioned above 19 are something else than U and in some cases I am quite certain that it is H.

The 'forager' sample: Red: true Paleolithic, Green: Forest Neolithic, Lemon: Forest Chalcolithic

Another thing they have not considered is excluding repeated sequences located in the same necropolis, often the same tomb, surely meaning close relatives, which therefore should count as just one. They could also ponder that saying U as such is almost meaningless and that its subclades should be considered instead.

Not really as important as the huge blanks left by the survey and the significance of 19 true Paleolithic sequences which are not U (60%), most of which exist in the huge and most important areas left blank in this sample: West Europe, Italy, Balcans...

That alone should be enough to disqualify this paper as ideological junk. 

But there is more: the Neolithic European samples are not considered in their local context, the Catalan samples are not compared with modern Catalans (bad fit) nor the German samples with modern Germans (another bad fit) but they are magically and conveniently pooled to make a pan-European set which more or less seems to fit with modern Europeans after some suspicious filtering they claim makes an unbiased dataset.

I have already wasted more than enough time in this piece of crap and really gets me angry: an academically qualified scholar like Fu, much more his mentor and co-author Svante Päbo should know better than pulling this ideological piece of propaganda.

Enough said unless the comments section demands something more.

See also: European ancient mtDNA maps page at this blog.

Late Basque linguist Txillardegi considered Iruña-Veleia graffiti to be true

That's the revelation recently released by another linguist and defender of the authenticity of the graffiti, Juan Martin Elexpuru: that Txillardegi believed them to be true.

José Luis Álvarez Emparantza, best known as Txillardegi, who died in January this year, is considered one of the most influential Basque linguists ever.

According to Elexpuru, he wrote to him a letter in December 2009 in which he stated that he had the Iruña-Veleia graffiti as authentic and that he considered Hector Iglesias' paper Les Inscriptions de Veleia-Iruñea to be outstanding (bikaina).

Interestingly he considers the inscription Yaveh zutan izana as an archaic form of hika (roughly equivalent to using the pronoun thou), mentioning that Johannes Leizarraga in the 17th century wrote aiz for (modern) haiz (thou art). Hence for Txillardegi this sentence should be read (in modern Basque) as Yaveh zerutan haizena (Yaveh who art in heaven). 

The issue of zerutan (modernly would be zeruan, sing., or zeruetan, pl.) he thinks it may be related to dialectal variants like surtan (from su: fire). 

In another letter he lamented that he could not, being in his 80s, anymore get involved in this affair, as he would have no doubt have done if he was younger.

Source: Berria[eu].

See also for ample background info: category Iruña-Veleia in this blog and its predecessor.