October 26, 2011

Neanderthals 22,000 years ago?

Just a quick note by the moment: Millán Mozota surprised us all[es] yesterday with a quite curious Neanderthal conceptual bomb: our extinct cousins may have survived in the valley of Liébana (Cantabria, Spain) for much longer than generally assumed.

The paper is:

No bones have been found but the Mousterian sequence and C14 dating is so robust that it is hard to question. Mousterian in this part of the World has only been associated with Neanderthals and never with our species and now there is are repeated C14 dates for the 23,500-19,300 window with Mousterian. From El Neandertal tonto...:

This basically leaves little doubt about people using Mousterian living so late in time, right at the Last Glacial Maximum and contemporary with local Gravettian (c. 20,700 BP, uncalibrated, at Morín) and Solutrean cultures (c. 19,000 BP at Las Caldas), almost shoulder with shoulder geographically. However there seems to be less clear Mousterian presence in Aurignacian times (ref. "first dates" for the Cantabrian Strip: 33-28,000 BP).

The unexpectedly late Mousterian tools

Another issue the authors and Millán arise are an apparent lower knowledge of their resources, exploiting more scattered niches maybe, too complex for me to discuss with it without having read the paper first.

Finally they seem interested in revisiting and reviewing a number of old "out of place" datings of Mousterian (and Acheulean?) sites that had been discarded as errors maybe a bit too hastily. 

Note (update): the calibration curve makes the real dates to be somewhat older than 19-23 Ka, something like 22-27 real Ka ago for the highlighted bracket of solidly dated ultra-late Mousterian.

__________________________ . __________________________

Micro RNA brings some to claim Neanderthals had some mental affinity to chimpanzees

A not too related news I decided to stuck here just because it's also on Neanderthals.

On first sight it looks a wild claim that reminds me of the microcephalin fiasco some years ago but I can't really argue against it with my knowledge of this kind of epigenetic material. Luckily it is open access so you can judge yourself:

With that title I probably just skipped over it when reading the email alerts but thankfully, Neanderthalerin, always hyper-alert to any kind of Neanderthal or otherwise hominin news, did notice[cat]

October 22, 2011

A history of the Basque Wars (II)


As the North of Vasconia (would-be Gascony mostly) became more romanized and under the influence of Western Frankish Kingdom (eventually known as France), the South would become the political stronghold of Basque identity around the city of Pamplona. 

The origins of the Kingdom of Pamplona are still somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend but it seems clear that the state was product of the battles of Roncevaux which prevented Frankish ambitions to be consolidated. In the South a smaller Muslim realm, the Banu Qasi emirate of Tudela, supported and was supported by the nominally Christian Kingdom of Pamplona. Religion was not important, freedom was instead.

The Kingdom of Pamplona in the 10th century

Pamplona was a key and growingly important part of the status quo in the 9th and 10th centuries. At the end of this period, under Sancho the Great, the realm had become the most powerful Christian state in the peninsula, controlling parts of the Hispanic March and all of Castile, and even intervening militarily in Leon on occasion of dynastic disputes. 

In the following map we can see the extension of the Pamplonese influence c. 1000 CE, under Sancho (Antso) the Great: Pamplona in red, orange indicates other realms in personal union, while pink indicates states under clear Pamplonese influence at the time.

Domains of Sancho the Great at the beginning of the 11th century

This period of peace and prosperity would suddenly end in the decade of 1030: in 1031, the last Caliph of Cordoba, the weak Hisham III died, resulting in the implosion of the Muslim state into a host of small emirates known as taifa realms. While until then the upper hand was always that of Cordoba, which regularly collected tributes from the Christian realms of the North, suddenly the situation changed radically and the vassals became overlords and raiders of the smallish new Muslim principalities.

A few years later, in 1035, Sancho died and his little personal empire, was divided among his sons: García Sánchez of Najera, the eldest legitimate son, inherited Pamplona, Gonzalo got Sobrarbe and Ribagorza, Ferdinand got Castile and the illegitimate son Ramiro was appointed Count of Aragon under Pamplonese sovereignty.

Soon Ferdinand of Castile had invaded Leon, with Pamplonese help (a clear strategical error), and taken the royal crown while Ramiro of Aragon had displaced his half-brother in Sobrarbe and Ribagorza. And soon after these two aggressive spawns were allied against their brother in the throne of Pamplona as well.

Atapuerca and The first partition

For many Atapuerca (from Basque ate: gate and Romance puerco: pig), located just outside Burgos, is just a Paleolithic archaeological site. However it is also a pass between the Duero and the Ebro basins and as such it was upon a time, this time, the Southwestern border of Pamplona.

It was also the site of the battle in which García Sánchez lost his life in 1054 and the site where the Basque Army rejected the possibility of appointing his brother Ferdinand, the invader, as new king of Pamplona, electing instead by acclamation his teen-ager son: Sancho García the Noble.

Sancho was in almost perpetual war with Castile for the western territories of Pamplona, sometimes supported by Aragon. Sancho was murdered by his siblings at a hunt near Peñalén in 1076, being Pamplona divided soon after.

Pamplona remained formally independent, in spite of having lost 2/3 of the country to Castile, under the Aragonese monarchy. It was in that time when parts of it began to be known as Navarre, probably from Basque nabarra: the brown (land).

The Restoration

Upon the death of Alphonse the Battler, his will gave all his realms to the Templar Knights. Neither the Parliaments of Navarre nor those of Aragon could agree with such weird idea, so they proclaimed new kings. In Navarre it was García Ramírez the Restorer, a relative of El Cid, who was soon engaged in another continuous war with Castile for the Western Country.

In 1177, King Henry II of England, who was also Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony (among other things), attempted to mediate between the two kingdoms. In the preserved documents it is clear that Navarre supports its claims on the will of the people, while Castile does on its military might that so useful could be to Christendom.

The mediation failed but two years later a similar peace was agreed: Castile kept Oca, Bureba, Rioja, while Araba and the coast (would-be Biscay and Gipuzkoa) remained under Navarrese control.

Castilian conquest of the West

In spite of all guarantees, in 1199, Castile invaded the Western Basque Country again while the new king, oddly known as Sancho the Wise, was in Africa in diplomatic mission. The fortified places of Vitoria and Treviño resisted but the king, unable to muster an army apparently, sent the Bishop of Pamplona with the order of surrender. Vitoria did surrender but Treviño fought until the end, reason why it was assigned to a Castilian feudal lord, while the rest of the Western Country was allowed to retain most of their self-rule.

For Castile, access to Basque harbors was important in order to export their wool to Flanders and general trade with Europe. Of course that was also true for Navarre, which had founded the harbor city of San Sebastian not much earlier and retained for some time access to the sea via Hendaia (and would later use Bayonne under treaties). But Navarre lost and that time it was a consolidated defeat, specially as Castile had grown very large at the expense of the Muslim realms of the South.

In order to secure the loyalty of the defeated Western Basques, Castile granted quasi-independence to the three resulting provinces: Araba, Biscay and Gipuzkoa, which retained Navarrese law and self-rule for almost every aspect, being able at times even to negotiate fishing treaties. Importantly the citizens of these three republics were exempt from military service (except temporary territorial militia in case of local invasion) and were granted gentry rights in the territory of Castile (preventing torture specially).

The last centuries of independent High Navarre

The residual Navarre became more and more attached to some of the most dynamic feudal lords of France: the House of Champagne first, the French crown later (separated because of the French law impeding women to inherit, while Navarre allowed this), the House of Evreux eventually as well.

In that time Navarrese Law became codified and Navarre formally became one of the first Parliamentary Monarchies of all Europe, however the power of the King (or regent) was still big and feudalization advanced as a cancer as well.

It was briefly under effective rule of the Machiavellian John II of Aragon, who acted against the law all the time, plotting the final collapse of Navarre in parallel to pan-European imperial ambitions. For that reason he murdered one after the other all his children with Queen Blanche of Navarre being an arch-villain of Basque and European history, able to murder his own children for his megalomaniac ambition (leading to the Habsburgs incidentally).

The trick did not work however because, as King consort, he was not by any means in the line of succession. After all heirs were murdered, the Navarrese Parliament eventually elected a young boy: Francis Phoebus of Foix, a member of the French Royal House, too big a fish for the Trastamara poisonous net... by the moment.

Cesar Borgia, captain of Navarre
The new dynasty was consolidated under (king consort) Jean d'Albret, a major feudal lord of France who became a relative of Pope Alexander VI by marriage of his daughter with the infamous Cesar Borgia, natural son of the former.

We can see here how the politics and dynasties of Europe in the birth of Modernity all spinned around Navarre somehow. Cesar Borgia, after losing his Italian possessions and fleeing an Aragonese prison, became a commander of the Navarrese Army and died at Biana defending the Basque state against the mercenaries of Aragon.

The invasion of 1512-21

But the Trastamaras did not rest and in 1512 they invaded the country with the pretext of a forgery of Papal bull and the support of England, which controlled Bayonne and readied up to block any attempt of help by France.

Navarre and dependencies at the time of the conquest

The huge Castilian army had not too much of a difficulty in capturing the small country but another thing was to retain it. Almost as soon as the army had left, the Pamplonese revolted and expelled the garrison, incidentally lead by some Iñigo (or Eneko) of Loyola

The war persisted for almost a decade, with several expeditions of Gascon troops from Bearn and other possessions of the House of Navarre,  entering the South to aid the people in revolt. However in the end, excess of confidence by the Navarrese general Asparros, who disbanded the infantry and put siege to Logroño, led to a catastrophe.

The last stand of Southern Navarrese resistance was at Amaiur fortress, in Baztan.

Protestant Navarre: First Basque Literature

The remnant of Navarre, almost devoid of Basque-speaking areas but retaining a large number of feudal possessions in Gascony and France became soon a Protestant state and the leading force of the Huguenot Party in the French Wars of Religion.

Queen Jeanne promoted a renaissance of Basque language, and, as happened with other Protestant nations, one of the first things to be translated to the vernacular language was the Bible (to both Labourdin Basque and Bearnese Gascon). However even older is the Linguæ Vasconum Primitiæ, a Basque grammar, as well as some other works. 

She was also leader of the Protestant camp in France. However the main role in this aspect would belong to her son Henry, who would eventually become King of France (as well as of Navarre) under the condition of renouncing to his Calvinist faith (Paris is well worth a mass). Known as the good king, he founded the dynasty of the Bourbons and kept all the time Navarre effectively independent. The Kings of France would style themselves Kings of France and Navarre until the French Revolution and then in the brief Restoration, however, while residual Navarre (with Zuberoa and Bearn) enjoyed some autonomy, it did so as province of France since 1620.

(... to be continued).

October 21, 2011

Rosly Frank's conference on Basque and West European origins (video in Basque/Spanish)

Some 80 people attended yesterday's conference at Bergara by Iowa University linguist Roslyn Frank on Basque origins. You can watch the conference (in alternate Basque and Spanish languages, which she speaks very well albeit with some accent) in the following low quality video (33 mins):

The last few minutes, where she outlines possible grammatical substrate loans from Basque into Spanish and English, among other languages (Eusk. -zko > Sp. -sco, Eng. -sh, Fr. -sque), is particularly interesting, at least it's something new to me.

A history of the Basque Wars (I)

On occasion of ongoing political events, I think it is important to remember that the Basque conflict is not something new at all but that its roots lay deep within the layers of history.

This is a short tentative history of the wars that the Basques have held against the Indoeuropean invaders. They may well have extended deeper into the past, as archaeology suggests, but the first historical evidence we have comes from the Romans. In 56 BC the campaigns of Caesar in Transalpine Gaul brought the Roman legions in contact with the Aquitani (of Basque language by all accounts).

War of Aquitania

Caesar sent P. Crassus with 12 cohorts plus cavalry and auxiliary troops to Aquitania, via Tolosa (modern Toulouse), and attacked the Sotiates, besieging their main city. After some fight this tribe, the mightiest of all Aquitani negotiated a surrender (De Bellum Gallicum XX and XXI). 

The capture of Sos alarmed the rest of the Basque tribes that assembled at least 50,000 troops against Crassus, not just from Aquitania but also from those parts of Hispania [Iberian Peninsula] that are nearest to it (the Cantabri are mentioned by name as well as procuring troops). However carelessness on the part of the Aquitanian army, which left the rear of their fortified camp unguarded, allowed a sudden victory to Crassus, whose men slayed 3/4 of the Basque Army.

This caused the surrender of the Aquitani.

Ref.: The Bello Gallico (book III).

Location of likely Basque-speaking tribes (red) in Antiquity

The Cantabrian War

Then, since 29 BCE, took place the conquest of Cantabria. There is much controversy on whether the Cantabri (and by extension the culturally similar Astures) were of Celtic or pre-Celtic (Basque) origin. There is no archaeological evidence supporting Celtization of the area (Urnfields/Hallstatt in Iberia), toponymy is non-Celtic, and the nation always fought with other Basque peoples like the Aquitani or the Autrigones.

In 29 BCE Aquitani and some Gaulish tribes (Treveri, Helvetii) rebelled. A Roman cohort was also massacred in Autrigon territory (Andogoste, in modern Araba) that year, however the Romans consolidated their presence in the Vaccean plains. In 28 BCE several Roman generals claim victories in Hispania and Gaul but it's unclear against whom.

In 27 BCE Gaius Octavianus Thurinus (Octavius) was named Augustus and headed to Iberia with an army of eight legions, arriving the next year. In Summer 26 BCE takes Asturica and Amaia, the capital cities of Astures and Cantabri. The war continued however. In 25 BCE the remnants of the Cantabrian Army took refuge in the high mountains but were besieged there by the Romans, dying in the Winter. In 24 BCE the fortress of Aracillum (Arakil?) was captured.

The war however was far from finished. As soon as Octavius returned to Rome revolt ensued, persisting for several years until it was quelled in 19 BCE, forcing the Cantabri to move their villages to the valleys (instead of the hillsides). Deportations and crucifixions were all part of the brutal Roman repression that ensued. Enslavement failed however, because Cantabrian slaves would murder their masters and run away, so no prisoners were taken in the end.

The last revolt happened in 16 BCE. In order to guarantee the control of the territory three legions remained. Even a century later, in 68 AD, a legion was still permanently located in the area to secure the access to the gold mines and general Roman control, this legion is the origin of the city of León.

The Bagaudae

The Bagaudae was not an ethnic war originally but a class war instead. The decadent late Western Roman Empire had taken a clear path towards Feudalism, implying that many tribal communal lands were being appropriated by landowners and free people were being enslaved (servum = slave) or almost (colonus = serf). As reaction farmers from the Western parts of the Empire revolted. 

The transition between Rome and no Rome happened here in two years: in 407, Basque troops under Roman command were able to prevent that Vandals, Alans and Suebi crossed the Pyrenees into Hispania. In 409, the Roman commanders brought to the imperial capital (Ravenna, not anymore Rome), they were allowed free passage, effectively taking control of all Western and Southern Iberia.

409-17 was also the apogee of the Bagaudae in Gaul.

In 410 the Visigoths sacked Rome. To prevent further damage, the weak Western Roman Emperor Honorius sent them to the West as foederati (allies), so they would combat against Bagaudae and independent barbarians alike in the name of the Empire. Their capital was Tolosa (Toulouse) at the gates of Vasconia. 

The Visigoths were very successful, conquering much of Hispania but they could never submit the Basques apparently.

It is most likely that the Basque aspect of the Bagaudae is the only reason why there is a Basque language and a Basque identity today. It is hard to believe that this ethnic identity could have survived without a de facto political independence as was generated by this revolt.

The destruction of Cantabria City and the rise of Vasconia

As I say, the Visigoths were very successful in Iberia, conquering the Vandal and Alan realms. Later, they also lost the Northern provinces to the Frankish, being forced to move their capital to Toletum (Toledo). 

As marche against the Basques they founded the Duchy of Cantabria, of unclear borders. As part of their campaigns they destroyed in 574 the capital of the Cantabri Amaia (rock of the mother in Basque) and a mystery town known to legend as Cantabria City, allegedly not far from Logroño. 

About that time, c. 602, the Franks created a similar entity in the North: the Duchy of Vasconia.  Since 626 there was a Basque rebellion against which the Franks sent a huge army lead by no less than nine dukes. This army was however defeated at Subola (modern Zuberoa/Xiberue/Soule).

In 643 the revolt extended to the North and in 648 to the South. Pamplona was clearly not under Visigothic control since at least 589.

Duchy of Vasconia in the 8th century

The situation remains unclear for lack of written sources (probably indicating de facto independence) until 660, when Felix, Duke of Aquitaine (in the Middle Ages indicating the lands North of the Garonne and not anymore the Basque Country, would-be Gascony), assumes also the title of Duke of Vasconia. 

He and his heirs ruled these two realms in personal union for more than a century, effectively independent from any other power. However, with the Muslim invasion, the realm began facing hard times.

In 714 the Arabs took Pamplona, in 721 they were defeated by Odo the Great at Toulouse but in 732 he was defeated near Bordeaux. The Duke had only one choice: to accept the claims of sovereignty by the Franks, led then by the Machiavellian Charles Martel, who had remained in the sidelines awaiting for his opportunity, and ask for military help. 

Together the two armies decisively defeated the Muslims at Tours or Poitiers, at the banks of the Loire, the Northern border of Aquitaine then. While the Muslim invaders laid vanquished, the position of the greedy Franks was then one of unprecedented strength. 

The three battles of Orreaga (Roncevaux Pass)

Trapped between two powerful states: the Spanish Emirate of Cordoba and the Frankish Kingdom, both with declared imperial ambitions (Cordoba was ruled by the Ummayads, who would eventually reclaim the title of Caliph, while Charlemagne would soon accept the title of Roman Emperor), the position of the independent Basques became very difficult. 

The ambition of Charlemagne was the major threat in any case, not only he was determined to exert his nominal overlordship on Vasconia but also he was offered once and again cities in Iberia wanting to escape Muslim domination. 

The first one of these was Zaragoza, the capital of the Upper Marche, the governor totally betrayed the Emir and turned the city to the Franks, suddenly arisen to be the most powerful realm of Europe. Charlemagne personally led the invading army, which had to go through Basque territory. However upon arrival, a new governor had been appointed for Zaragoza and Charlemagne had to pull back.

While retreating, he decided to demolish the walls of Pamplona, leaving the city exposed to Muslim invasion, or maybe he destroyed the city altogether. This was one step too far and the Basque militias were summoned, maybe by the Duke Otsoa himself, slaying the Frankish aristocracy in a key ambush, on August 15th 778. 

This was the only major defeat of Charlemagne and one he lamented all his life.

It is unclear if the battle took place at the spot now claimed to be, Roncevaux (too open), but surely not far away, maybe further east near the peak of Urkuilu, where the old Roman road (but not the modern asphalt road) went through.

There was a second battle of Roncevaux in 812, which resulted in stalemate. A third battle in 824 was a clear Basque victory (possibly because of turnover by Count of Vasconia Aznar Sans, who was spared). The leader of this expedition, Duke Eblus of Auvergne was sent to Cordoba where he was decapitated.  

These battles helped to contain the Frankish encroaching and eventually secured the independence of Vasconia, which nevertheless was more and more romanized, becoming Gascony. They also helped to forge a new and most important state: the Kingdom of Pamplona. 

(... to be continued).

October 14, 2011

Echoes from the Past (Oct 14) - the genetic isolation of humankind

I'm planning an entry on Paleolithic and Neolithic navigation but meanwhile, here it goes some stuff (mariner or not) that I find interesting.

Homo genus became genetically isolate thanks to natural spermicide

H. erectus (female) reconstruction
A critical change in a immune system molecule, from Neu5Gc to Neu5Ac, made our ancestors effectively isolated from our cousins from the Pan genus and probably also from the then common australopithecines. 

This change would simply kill any non-human sperm in the uterus or, would it manage to succeed, the resultant fetus. This incompatibility with other hominins may have been critical in the process of speciation of the first Homo species such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis or maybe A. sediba. 

··> Science Daily, Darius Ghaderi et al. at PNAS (PPV for six months or freely accessible in some world regions).

Human thumb (Neanderthal or H. heidelbergensis) found in Sardinia

The finding of a thumb bone in Sardinia, dated to 250-300,000 years ago, may help break the fantasy of ancient humans not being able to navigate. This finding adds to those of Crete (c. 190 Ka ago and the famous Flores hominin), all of which must have crossed vast spans of sea in order to get to their destinations, implying at least some level of navigation. 

In the discussion at NeanderFollia, David indicated further evidence of archaic navigation I was unaware of: H. erectus must have reached Flores c. 900,000 years ago, in what is probably the most ancient navigation feat we can confirm ··> John Hawks, Environmental Grafitti, Adam Brumm et al. at Nature (PPV).

Also there is at least some uncertainty of H. ergaster or some other human species maybe crossing to Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar at similar dates as in Flores or maybe even earlier, but, because of the various possible routes involved this is less conclusive. Instead, Flores, Sardinia and Crete have not been connected to the mainland at any time in the biological history of the genus Homo.

Art workshop found in South Africa

A number of shells with indications of having held ochre have been found in the important site of Blombos Cave, South Africa. The shells had holes which suggest that they were used as containers. Other tools, such as hammers and knives, to work the clay, have also been found.

Babies know justice instictively

While actual perception and interest on fairness varies, a good deal of human babies (15 months old) clearly show interest in fair sharing and will actively share. Other babies have less interest in fairness however but they will share anyhow, even if in a less generous manner. 

Malaria research casts doubt on mitochondrial DNA 'molecular clock'

It seems that the molecular clock is not on streak. Recently it was radically challenged for Y-DNA and it seems obvious that it will not survive in general, at least without radical revisions. A crucial assumption for the molecular clock hypothesis is that the clock ticks regularly or almost so. 

Well, it does not seem to be the case of mtDNA either: certainly not for the primate parasite Plasmodium sp

The use of fossils from the host as absolute calibration and the assumption of a strict clock likely underestimate time when performing molecular dating analyses on malarial parasites. Indeed, by exploring different calibration points, we found that the time for the radiation of primate parasites may have taken place in the Eocene, a time consistent with the radiation of African anthropoids. The radiation of the four human parasite lineages was part of such events. 

Celtic astronomical kurgan found in Germany

Dated to the 7th century BCE, the plan of a burial mound (or kurgan) of the Hallstatt period in the early Celtic area of Southern Germany has been reported. Allegedly the disposition of the wooden posts around the mound inform about the astronomy of the Moon, primarily, and the Sun and they may even describe constellations.

Altamira at risk on short-sighted tourism greed

Millán Mozota denounces at his blog, echoing other researchers, the short-sighted attitude of the Cantabrian authorities who have decided to open the Altamira cave to the public again in spite of the dramatic risk for the art in it.
In the last decade, considerable attention has been paid to the deterioration of the caves that house the world's most prominent Paleolithic rock art. This is exemplified by the caves of Lascaux (Dordogne, France) (1) and Altamira (Cantabria, Spain), both declared World Heritage Sites. The Altamira Cave has been closed to visitors since 2002. Since 2010, reopening the Altamira Cave has been under consideration. We argue that research indicates the need to preserve the cave by keeping it closed in the near future.

The public can enjoy a replica of part of the cave at the nearby museum.

Iberian Neolithic idols

While in Spanish language, I can't but call your attention to this fifth article of Neolítico de la Península Ibérica on the diverse array of idols known from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic of Iberia. Even if you can't read any Spanish, you will no doubt gather some information and visual recreation from simply watching the many images and maps included in this blogpost. For example:

Orange ovals: "eyed" idols (oculados), brown ovals: "plate" idols (ídolos placa)

··> Neolítico de la Península Ibérica[es].

Last minute news:  some iris pattern genetics unveiled ··> The Spitoon.

October 10, 2011

Echoes from the Past (Oct 10)

A lot of stuff that I won't probably dedicate more time nor space (sadly enough in some cases at least):

Middle Paleolithic:

Mass production of flint flakes at Palestinian Qassem Cave ··> Jerusalem Post, The Media Line, Ron Shimelmitz et al. at Journal of Human Evolution (PPV).

Upper Paleolihic:

Domestic dog with mammoth bone in mouth (left) found in Czech Republic (Gravettian context) ··> Pileta de Prehistoria[es], Discovery News, Journal of Archaeological Science (PPV). 

Australian rock art dated to c. 30 Ka ago in danger because of Rio Tinto mining activities at Burrup Peninsula ··> The Heritage Journal, The Guardian

Children made rock art in Rouffignac ··> The Heritage Journal.

Basque chasm captured sample of late UP animals. The "Kiputz IX trap" near Deba was a death sentence for 48 deer, 23 reindeer and 18 steppe bisons, none of which show any sign of human consumption. The best preserved skull is that of a male bison (right). The site is dated to c. 19-18 Ka ago, in the Solutrean period ··> Gara[es].

20,000 years ago Azrak (Jordan) was a fertile inhabited region and the first one to bury people in crouched position, it seems ··> MENA.

End of war allows dig to recover Paleolithic artifacts at Jaffna Peninsula (Ceylon) ··>  Sri Lanka News.

Neolithic & Metal Ages:

City older than Troy, dated to c. 7000 years ago, found not far away ··> National Turk, Hurriyet, Today's Zaman.

Kurgan explored with tiny flying drone ··> Live Science.

Elevation reconstruction of the tomb

Girl's tomb found near henge in Kent ··> The Heritage Journal.

Project to dig islands around Britain to establish origins of Neolithic ··> PhysOrg, Irish Weather Online

Iruña-Veleia: map shows there were two Veleias. Veleia Gori [VIIL(II)I(A) GORI] and Veleia Nova [VIILIII NOVVA.]are mentioned in a stone map of the Basque-Roman town ··> Iruina[es] (also here).

The 'map' (click to expand)
I'd speculate that GORI (a word that also appears in other inscriptions) might be goiri (upwards and attested as surname modernly) it could be also goren(a) (of the high, or something like that). Previously it had been supposed to mean gorri (red) because it appeared along with other color names, who knows?

Conservation efforts for Göbekli Tepe ··> Popular Archaeology.

Uncertain period:

Heart-shaped Australian stone ring at Little River (Victoria) could be astronomical observatory ··> BBC.

Human genetics and biology:

Extremely pale people may not be getting enough sun without burning (and hence may benefit from extra fish in the diet or industrial supplements) ··> SD.  

Claim, based on mtDNA, that major population expansion in East Asia is pre-Neolithic ··> Hong-Xiang Zheng et al. at PLoS ONE (open access).

Figure 2. mtDNA Bayesian skyline plot showing the size trend of 4 East Eurasian populations.
Take with a pinch of salt, of course. 

CHB: Chinese Han from Beijing, CHS CH from South China, CHD: CH from Denver, USA, JPT: Japanese from Tokyo. Notice how, whatever the case, CHS have the softest curve, with almost no sudden expansion signatures. 

Proposal to estimate sex bias in gene flow ··> N. Osada at PLoS ONE (open access). 

Jomon Era ancient mtDNA of Hokkaido Japan (includes N9b, D4h2, G1b, and M7a) ··> Dienekes, Noboru Adachi et al. at Physical Anthropology (PPV).

Population genetics conference at Porto, Portugal, on November 23-25 ··> link.

Other science news:

Solar system once had fifth gas planet, but was expelled ··> PhysOrg

Can primordial black holes be the elusive dark matter ··> PhysOrg.

Magic mushrooms (Psylocybe sp.) can impact certain personalities for the better, while being trivial for others ··> Psychedelic Research, SD.

2011 IgNobel prizes:
  • Physiology: no contagious yawning for turtles.
  • Chemistry: wasabi (pungent radish) fire alarm for heavy sleepers.
  • Medicine: people make better and worse decisions when under pressure to go to the loo.
  • Psychology: why do we sigh?
  • Biology: beetles love beer bottles.
  • Physics: why discus throwers get dizzy (and hammer ones do not)?
  • Mathematics: to a long list of doomsayers who predicted the end of the World... and failed.
  • Peace: smashing wrongly parked luxury cars with tanks in Vlinus, Lithuania.
  • Safety: driving while a visor intermittently blocks your sight.

Can neutrinos be faster than light? ··> Nature.

Gonorrhoea becoming resistant to antibiotics ··> BBC.

Special thanks to (see also): Stone Pages' Archaeo News.

October 5, 2011

Genetics of Marsh Arabs (Iraq)

There is a new paper on haploid human genetics focused in the Marsh Arabs of Iraq, arguably descendants of ancient Sumerians (or the southern fraction of them).

The study offers a host of data on Y-DNA and mtDNA genetics of Iraq and by extension in some cases of the whole West Asian region. 

Y-DNA (paternal lineages):

Y-DNA is 74.3% a single haplogroup: J1c3 (P58/Page8), however this is most of all J1 also in all other studied populations except the Caucasus. Overall J1 in Marsh Arabs adds up to 81.3%, the rest being E (7.7%), P (7%), J2 (3.5%), G (1.4%) and L (0.7%). 

By contrast other Iraqis show a much more diverse Y-DNA pool, with only 31.1% J1 but 24% J2, 21.3% P (of which 17.5% is R1), 13.6% E, 6.5% T (totally absent among Marsh Arabs), 1.9% G and 0.6% L.

Obviously J1 (and J1c3 within it) requires further research but I wonder if this may inform us of the Neolithic (??) scatter southwards of West Asian peoples. Not only Arabia Peninsula was probably recolonized in this period but also southern Iraq as well as far as I know, because there was a time when it was part of the sea. Then people from the North (Samarra culture) apparently colonized the region, becoming the famed Sumerians and founding the first widely acknowledged civilization ever.

Fig. 6 frequency (left) and variance (right) of J1, J1* and J1c3

The figure above offers us a glimpse of the likely origins of J1 in highland West Asia (Kurdistan, Armenia, Georgia, nearby areas of Turkey), although South Italy also displays surprisingly high diversity I must say. J1c3 may have similar origins.

Mitochondrial DNA (maternal lineages):

Table 1 goes into great detail on the lineages of Marsh Arabs and other Iraqis (control group). Notably Marsh Arabs display in comparison with other Iraqis:
  • significantly more: 
    • Within R: R*, R0a, R2, K1a8, U3, U7, J2
    • Within N(xR): N1 (N1b and N1c), W
    • Other: M2, M37e
  • significantly less: 
    • Within R: R0(xR0a), HV(xH), H, U1
    • Other: L(xM,N)
  • roughly the same:
    • Within R: U(xU1, U3, U7, K1a8), JT(xJ2)
    • Within N(xR): X2
Overall they display more of some specific R subclades (R0a, R2, K1a8, U3, U7, J2 and the intriguing R*), more N1, more W, more M2 and more M37e. 

The most important mtDNA lineages of Marsh Arabs seem to be as follow: 
  • R0 (24.1%)
    • H* (7.6%)
    • R0a (6.9%)
    • HV* (3.4%)
    • H5 (3.4%)
  • J (22.7%)
    • J1b (5.5%)
    • J2a (4.1%)
  • U (15.9%)
    • K1 (6.2%)
    • U3 (5.5%)
    • U7 (4.8%)
  • N1 (8.9%)
    • N1b1 (4.8%)
    • N1c (3.4%)
  • T (7.6%)
    • T1a (3.4%)
  • W (4.8%)