February 29, 2012

Neanderthals crossed the sea at least once

New research has found that the Ionian islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos were never united to land, what implies that the Mousterian findings (probably Neanderthal-made) belong to peoples who crossed from the mainland, almost necessarily on boat or raft of some sort (they could have swam in theory but hardly with kids and all the family, you know).

Source and more data at New Scientist (found via Pileta).

Reference paper: G. Ferentinos et al., Early seafaring activity in the southern Ionian Islands, Mediterranean Sea. Journal of Archaeological Science 2012. Pay per view.

The rich are rich because they are greedy and cheat

There's a new study out there set to open some minds to reality:

Raul K. Piff et al., Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. PNAS 2012. Pay per view (free in six months or already depending on global region).


Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.

They even justify their unethical behavior because for them greed is somehow ethical, something good (as Reagan would memorably state in his reign), justifying almost everything (while for the rest of us it is obviously not). 

I wonder if there is a greedy gene and if we could inactivate it with genetic engineering. Of course I also wonder if such thing could be ethical... but sounds better than guillotine, right?

In the media: The Independent, Kaos[es].

Other great discoveries of modern psychological science: conservatives are quite scared, and progressive and open minded people are generally smarter.

On and around with Ötzi's genome

As you're probably more than aware by now there's a new paper on the market (yeah, 32 bucks - but worry not that I already got my hands on it) on the most loved mummy of Europe: Ötzi the Iceman.

A. Keller et al., New insights into the Tyrolean Iceman's origin and phenotype as inferred by whole-genome sequencing. Nature 2012. Pay per view.

The most notable conclusion would seem to make Ötzi closest in all to Sardinians or more like   Corsicans, at least by Y-DNA. This one has been described now as G2a-L91, what is per ISOGG 2012 G2a2b (although the authors use the old nomenclature G2a4) and is most commonly found in Southern Corsica and the Corsican-speaking parts of Sardinia (Gallura).

The autosomal DNA has been compared with an all-Europe sample (the Behar 2010 one, I think based on the nomenclature used), to which a Sardinian sample was added. The result (right) does suggest a Sardinian (or Corsican) affinity of Ötzi.

Notice please that in the supplemental material the Ötzi dot achieves three different positions depending on the level of refinement: while all place Ötzi to the bottom left corner, he's exact position varies quite a bit - it's not like PC analysis (nor genetics overall) is rocket science, you know.

Also another caveat I have with this kind of analysis is that all it says is that Sardinians and Ötzi are very negative for both PC components, th Northern and the Eastern ones. The only association at the bottom left corner is a negative one: neither Nordic nor Greek, and this is not too informative.

Yes, the Y-DNA points to an association with Corsica (rather than Sardinia), what reinforces the suggestion posited by the autosomal DNA basic (but negative) analysis, still it would be nice if the authors would have bothered to do some 'Admixture' type of analysis as complement. 

At the moment all we have is a negative: Ötzi, who belonged to a Cardium Pottery derived cultural group (Bocca Quadrata or La Lagozza, can't recall right now) and bears a quite clear Neolithic marker such as Y-DNA G2a, shows up as strongly non-Balcanic, unlike most modern Italians (Europe S sample).

It looks odd indeed... but it might be explained if we assume that from that time on, secondary (post Neolithic) Bronze Age flows from the Aegean (and Central Europe) altered gradually the genetic composition of Italy. This is supported by archaeology as far as I know: even before Mycenaean Greeks, the Aegean was influencing Southern and Central Italy more and more. This trend was reinforced in the late Bronze Age (Mycenaean colonization in the South, Etruscan migration in the Center) and the Iron Age (classical Greek colonization of Magna Graecia).

Before the Romans Italy was all or most of the time a recipient of cultural influences (from the Balcans, from SW Europe and from Central Europe) and did not, as far as I can tell, export culture except as secondary trampoline (the Cardium Pottery Case notably). Excepting the Cardium Pottery case, it acted more as a buffer between West and East and dead end than what its central Mediterranean position would suggest. Even in the Heraklean myth, original Greek version, the route to the fabled Hesperides does not go through Italy but North Africa. Only later, as the Romans rose to prominence, was Hercules made to journey back through Italy, something not specified in the original version. 

I'm saying all this because it may explain why the Europe S (Italy) component tends so strongly towards the Balcans (and to lesser extent Northern Europe) but neither Ötzi nor Sardinians do, even if they look Neolithic-blooded to some extent.

All Africa autosomal analysis at Ethio Helix

I want to call your attention at the very interesting autosomal analysis of all Africa at Ethio Helix today. Surely Africa is too big and too diverse to be captured well enough in a single pan-continental analysis but there is still a lot to learn from that study.

February 27, 2012

Copper findings in Kerala reinforce the concept of Chalcolithic India

Pottery found at Ramakkalmedu
The finding of copper beads, used for ornament, in Megalithic burials of Ramakkalmedu (Kerala) reinforces the idea of India also having a Chalcolithic period, intermediate between Neolithic and Iron Age. Until recently however the paradigm was one of Neolithic being directly followed by Iron Age.

Anyhow, in Europe often the notion of Chalcolithic, rather than just usage of copper and other soft metals (gold, silver), implies more the growth of social complexity and the first stages of civilization (much like Neolithic doesn't anymore mean the use of polished stones but farming instead). 

Whatever the criteria used (not all authors agree), the beads excavated in Kerala are fine quality jewelry, and seem to imply a gradual advance of the Chalcolithic from the Deccan Plateau and ultimately from the Harappan civilization of the Northwest. 

Source: The Hindu.

February 26, 2012

Basque mtDNA

I finally today put my hands on the latest study on Basque matrilineal genetics:

I have to commend the paper because the detail achieved is unprecedented, owing to a good and ambitious sampling strategy and testing for not just the whole hypervariable region (both HVS-I and HVS-II) but for 22 coding region markers as well. As result they have found a number of rare haplogroups and others that are common among Basques but apparently not elsewhere.

Fig. 1, showing the detailed sampling strategy

They have therefore achieved an unprecedented depth in the analysis of mtDNA H among Basques and neighboring populations but they pay no attention to other haplogroups. In this sense I have missed slightly more attention to U(xK), which is an important Basque haplogroup, second only to H, and the lack of proper tabulation of the results other than for haplogroup H. This made me dedicate most of this Sunday to manually tab the information, which I believe is important knowledge to share and discuss.

But first the pearl of this work, the discovery of novel Basque-specific sublineages of haplogroup H. They are detailed in table 1:

Table 1

But there is even more data in the supplemental materials, however it is not well organized (specially all the non-H sequences: merely tabbed in PDF format) and requires some hard work to put together. As said before, I dedicated some long hours to that task and I came up with the following data:
A. Gascony:
Bearn (n=56):
  • H1: 11 (20%)
  • H2a: 2 (4%)
  • H3: 3 (5%)
  • V: 3 (5%)
  • HV: 2 (4%)
  • U: 16 (29%)
  • K: 6 (11%)
  • J: 4 (7%)
  • T: 2 (4%)
  • X: 3 (5%)
  • Singletons: H5'36, H6, H9, H59
Bigorre (n=48):
  • H1: 9 (19%)
  • H3: 2 (4%)
  • V: 4 (8%)
  • U: 11 (23%)
  • K: 5 (10%)
  • J: 2 (4%)
  • T: 4 (8%)
  • Singletons: H2a, H6, H14, H67, HV, R0, K, I, X, W, C
Chalosse (Dax district) (n=60):
  • H1: 9 (15%)
  • H2a: 4 (7%)
  • H6: 2 (3%)
  • H13: 4 (7%)
  • H74: 2 (3%)
  • V: 5 (8%)
  • HV: 2 (3%)
  • U: 13 (22%)
  • K: 3 (5%)
  • J: 5 (8%)
  • T: 3 (5%)
  • X: 3 (5%)
  • Singletons: H3, H4, H5, H8, H42
B. Northern Basque Country:
Lapurdi/Baztan (Lapurtera dialectal zone) (n=58):
  • H1: 15 (26%)
  • H2a: 2 (3%)
  • H3: 3 (5%)
  • H4: 2 (3%)
  • V: 8 (14%)
  • U: 13 (22%)
  • J: 8 (14%)
  • T: 2 (3%)
  • Singletons: H5, H6, H24, K, X
Lapurdi/Lower Navarre (Benafarrera dialectal zone) (n=73):
  • H1: 24 (33%)
  • H3: 4 (5%)
  • H5: 2 (3%)
  • H20: 2 (3%)
  • V: 6 (8%)
  • HV: 6 (8%)
  • U: 13 (18%)
  • K: 2 (3%)
  • J: 5 (7%)
  • T: 2 (3%)
  • X: 4 (5%)
  • Singletons: H2a, H6, H42
Zuberoa (n=61*):
  • H1: 16 (26%)
  • H2a: 3 (5%)
  • H5: 2 (3%)
  • HV: 3 (5%)
  • V: 2 (3%)
  • U: 14 (23%)
  • K: 5 (8%)
  • J: 9 (15%)
  • X: 3 (5%)
  • W: 2 (3%)
  • Singletons: H3, T
C. Southern Basque Country South (Spanish-speaking area since 19th century):
Araba (n=56):
  • H*: 2 (4%)
  • H1: 18 (32%)
  • H3: 6 (11%)
  • V: 3 (5%)
  • HV: 5 (9%)
  • U: 7 (13%)
  • K: 3 (5%)
  • T: 5 (9%)
  • J: 4 (7%)
  • Singletons: H58, N1, X
Central-Western Navarre (n=64):
  • H1: 10 (15%)
  • H3: 12 (19%)
  • H7: 2 (3%)
  • V: 7 (11%)
  • U: 10 (15%)
  • K: 2 (3%)
  • J: 3 (5%)
  • T: 7 (11%)
  • I: 2 (3%)
  • Singletons: H*, H2a, H5, H27, H42, H49, H81, N1, X
North-Eastern Navarre (Erronkari-Salazar): (n=55)
  • H*: 2 (4%)
  • H1: 9 (16%)
  • H3: 5 (9%)
  • H42: 4 (7%)
  • V: 6 (11%)
  • U: 17 (31%)
  • K: 2 (4%)
  • T: 6 (11%)
  • J: 3 (5%)
  • Singleton: K
D. Southern Basque Country North (Basque-speaking area in 20th century):
Biscay (n=59):
  • H1: 17 (29%)
  • H2a: 6 (10%)
  • H6: 2 (3%)
  • H53: 3 (5%)
  • V: 2 (3%)
  • HV: 3 (5%)
  • U: 9 (15%)
  • J: 6 (10%)
  • X: 2 (3%)
  • Singletons: H*, H14, H17, H24, H86, T, N1, I, K
Gipuzkoa (n=57*):
  • H1: 19 (33%)
  • H3: 7 (12%)
  • H17: 2 (4%)
  • V: 3 (5%)
  • U: 12 (21%)
  • K: 2 (4%)
  • J: 5 (9%)
  • T: 2 (4%)
  • X: 2 (4%)
  • Singletons: H2a, H14, W
Gipuzkoa SW (n=63):
  • H1: 24 (38%)
  • H2a: 3 (5%)
  • H3: 3 (5%)
  • H6: 2 (3%)
  • V: 3 (5%)
  • U: 16 (25%)
  • K: 2 (3%)
  • J: 3 (5%)
  • T: 2 (3%)
  • Singletons: H4, H58, HV, X, L3'4
North-Western Navarre (n=53):
  • H1:10 (19%)
  • H2a: 3 (6%)
  • H3: 8 (15%)
  • H4: 2 (4%)
  • H5: 3 (6%)
  • V: 3 (6%)
  • U: 12 (23%)
  • T: 4 (8%)
  • J: 5 (9%)
  • Singletons: H24, HV, W
E. Southern Basque Country - West Biscay (Spanish speaking since old):
Enkarterriak (n=21):
  • H1: 5 (23%)
  • H3: 3 (14%)
  • H15: 3 (14%)
  • HV: 3 (14%)
  • U: 2 (10%)
  • Singletons: H4, H24, H87, K, X
F. Spain (areas once within the Basque ethno-cultural area):
Northern Aragon (n=29):
  • H3: 5 (17%)
  • H4: 2 (7%)
  • HV: 3 (10%)
  • U: 5 (17%)
  • K: 2 (7%)
  • J: 6 (21%)
  • T: 3 (10%)
  • Singletons: H42, V, X
Northern Burgos province (n=24):
  • H1: 2 (8%)
  • H3: 4 (17%)
  • U: 8 (33%)
  • K: 2 (8%)
  • T: 2 (8%)
  • J: 2 (8%)
  • Singletons: H*, H4, V, L2
Cantabria (n=19):
  • H1: 7 (37%)
  • H3: 3 (16%)
  • H5: 2 (11%)
  • J: 2 (11%)
  • Singletons: H27, H30, U, K, T
La Rioja (n=52):
  • H*: 2 (4%)
  • H1: 13 (25%)
  • H3: 7 (13%)
  • H5: 3 (6%)
  • U: 8 (15%)
  • J: 4 (8%)
  • T: 5 (10%)
  • K: 3 (6%)
  • Singletons: H10, H13, H30, H51, H58, R0, I

(1) * Sample size of Zuberoa is listed as 62 and Gipuzkoa as 56 but after checking and rechecking I'm pretty sure that one individual has swapped populations. So I'm assuming that n(Zuberoa)=61 and n(Gipuzkoa)=57 for all apportions. 

(2) Haplogroups in italic type are not named that way (or not named at all) in PhyloTree. I am confused by this and other nomenclature of this paper and so far haven't got time to study what they might mean. Ideas are welcomed. 

(3) U means obviously U(xK). Just using the same terminology from the paper. Again, I haven't got any time to explore how much of that U is U5b, U5a, U4 or other clades. This is in my opinion the greatest shortcoming of the paper: ignoring U almost completely. 

Based on this data, I elaborated some maps (official administrative divisions retained for reference, circle diameters are proportional to sample sizes):

Frequencies of mtDNA H1

Frequencies of mtDNA H3

Frequencies of mtDNA U(xK)

Frequencies of mtDNA J

Frequencies of mtDNA V

Notice that V is not as common among Basques as initially reported years ago.

See also:

Oldest toy car is from Kurdistan c. 5500 BCE

The oldest toy car (right) is as old as 5500 BCE and was found near the North Kurdish town of Qoser (Kızıltepe). The car is worked on stone, has axles of different length and pre-dates Indoeuropeans by a lot. 

Previously the oldest known toy cars were from Turkmenistan (Altyndepe) or Mesopotamia, being dated to the fourth millennium BCE.

Other findings in the same site (also worked on stone) are dolls and whistles, the latter still able to produce sounds. These however could be more recent, from the fourth millennium.

Intelligence genes more elusive than Higgins' boson

Havard University has issued a press release where Christopher F. Chabris, author of a yet unpublished paper on the matter, ponders the elusiveness of genes that could define intelligence. 

Twin studies have suggested that there is at least some truth to an association of intelligence (measured by IQ) with inherited genes, however now it seems clear that no individual gene is likely responsible of any notable influence on expressed intelligence. 

Chabris ponders that the genetic influence is probably the work of many genes acting collectively and not any single one of them, and also of the interactions of genes and environment.

What our results show is that the way researchers have been looking for genes that may be related to intelligence — the candidate gene method — is fairly likely to result in false positives, so other methods should be used.

Update (Oct 18): the paper is available here (PDF).

February 25, 2012

Maternal ancestry of Jamaicans

Jamaican slave revolt of 1759 (source)
There is a new study on the mitochondrial DNA of Jamaicans, shedding some light on the ancestry of this Caribbean nation:

I must certainly commend the historical introduction, which is not just comprehensive but also easy to follow and understand and well integrated with the information provided by the mitochondrial DNA findings. 

While there are a handful of lineages rooted in Native America or North of the Sahara (but not European), the overwhelming majority of the more than 400 Jamaican matrilineages studied in their HVS-I region have their roots in Africa. 

The most informative findings are however those about the regional origins within Africa of  the ancestors of modern Jamaicans. The Gold Coast and Bight of Benin regions (between Assini and the Niger Delta per fig. 1) are the main sources of Jamaican ancestry. Other West African regions (Sierra Leone, Bight of Biafra and West-Central Africa) were secondary sources only, while South and East Africa is almost not represented. 

This last appears to have surprised the authors, who expected more impact of the late slave trade based largely on the Indian Ocean coasts, similarly they seem a bit perplex by the relatively low influence of the Bight of Biafra, another major late source of African slaves. They argue that greater traveled distances may have hurt the chances of survival of people being transported from farther away (a documented fact) and that creole slaves, those born in the Caribbean, had much better chances of survival and even some chances of upward mobility.

See also: African ancestry of the Noir Marron of the Guianas, a previous example of the same approach cited in this paper. In that case however the bulk of the ancestry was from the Biafra area.

February 24, 2012

Late West European Neanderthals had very low matrilineal genetic diversity

According to the new paper, this diversity was lower than modern day Iceland, however it had been larger before 48,000 years ago.

Love Dalén et al., Partial genetic turnover in neandertals: continuity in the east and population replacement in the west. MBE 2012. Pay per view.


Remarkably little is known about the population-level processes leading up to the extinction of the neandertal. To examine this, we use mtDNA sequences from 13 neandertal individuals, including a novel sequence from northern Spain, to examine neandertal demographic history. Our analyses indicate that recent western European neandertals (<48 kyr) constitute a tightly defined group with low mitochondrial genetic variation in comparison to both eastern and older (>48 kyr) European neandertals. Using control region sequences, Bayesian demographic simulations provide higher support for a model of population fragmentation followed by separate demographic trajectories in subpopulations over a null model of a single stable population. The most parsimonious explanation for these results is that of a population turnover in western Europe during early Marine Isotope Stage 3, predating the arrival of anatomically modern humans in the region.

Other sources: Pileta[es], NeanderFollia[cat].

I do not have access to the paper so I remain in doubt about the details, however I wonder if this genetic bottleneck or founder effect may be related to the formation of Chatelperronian culture (oldest dates (ref: direct download): Grotte du Renne since c. 52 Ka calBP, Roc de Combe since c. 49 Ka calBP). It'd be interesting to know how these Western Neanderthal individuals correlate with the cultural mosaic of the MP-UP transition period c. 50-35 Ka BP.

The Gravettian culture in Central Europe

Even if five years old, I have just stumbled (at Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog) on this very nice and extensive paper on the Gravettian of Central Europe, and it seems to me a must-read for anyone with some interest in Upper Paleolithic Europe or in general in the origins of Europeans.

Jiří A. Svoboda, The Gravettian on the Middle Danube. Paleo 2007. Freely accessible (in English and French). 

I'd say that the first sections are the most interesting ones, notably for the non-specialist reader. In them the author ponders the origin of Gravettian, concluding that it cannot be derived from early Upper Paleolithic cultures like Bohunician or Szeletian and that it must be instead an intrusive culture from West Asia (links to the older Ahmarian culture of the Levant). 

The Kozarnikian group of Bulgaria's Kozarniki cave may signal the migration through the Balcans.

Once in Central Europe, the Early Gravettian or Pavlovian indicates discontinuity again by occupying different sites to those used by their predecessors, and also with different settlement tactics (large open air axial settlements in low altitudes and near rivers). Another difference is that burial then became a common feature, allowing us to find their remains much more easily (the famous "Crô-Magnon" type individuals).

The time-frame for this Pavlovian facies of Moravia and nearby areas of Austria and Poland is mostly 27-25 Ka BP (uncalibrated C14), with older dates only in Willendorf (Austria). A contemporary non-Pavlovian Early Gravettian site is Bodrogkeresztúr-Henye in East Hungary (c. 29-26 Ka BP).

The Early Gravettian is followed an Upper Gravettian of Central-East European scope (often described as Eastern Gravettian, as it extends into Eastern Europe). The author calls it Willendorfian-Kostenkian. 

Finally an Epigravettian exists after c. 20 Ka BP, however Svoboda considers that this is a misnomer and more proper for the Mediterranean variants, which are more congruent with classical Gravettian typology, and proposes the name of Kasovian (on an Ukrainian site with a good stratigraphy for this period). This Kasovian would be in fact an hybrid of Gravettian and Aurignacian influences and begs for a comparison with the Badegoulian culture of Western Europe, sometimes considered the precursor of Magdalenian.

The latter sections deal with landscape and burials.

February 23, 2012

Human Y-chromosome stable, not going extinct anytime soon

Years ago it was claimed (Aitken & Graves 2002, ppv) that the human Y-chromosome was in rapid decay and would vanish in some five million years. Today I read at BBC and Nature (article) that this won't happen after all, being in fact quite stable.

The main finding seems to be that the comparison with chimpanzee Y chromosome alone was misleading and that further comparison in the simian tree (rhesus macaque) actually found Y chromosomes very similar to those of our species. 

The macaque Y contained just one gene that humans have lost, and that gene resides on a particularly unstable portion of the Y. The human Y has grown much longer than the macaque’s, but the genes were mostly the same.

February 21, 2012

From the Net: 'Evidence of Massacre in Bronze Age Turkey' (Past Horizons)

Determining social relationships between populations in the past can be difficult. Trade can be inferred from evidence such as pottery with foreign designs, or non-local foods. Warfare can be determined from the presence of mass graves or cemeteries of adult males displaying trauma, or weaponry showing signs of frequent use. However, trauma is not always a sign of conflict with external populations. It can also reflect the normal struggles of daily life or even interpersonal violence within the community.

Skeletal collections with trauma found from the Neolithic period in Anatolia suggest that injury was caused by daily activities and lifestyle, rather than systematic violence. However, shortly after this period there is an increase in trauma associated with violence that may suggest an increase in stress within and between populations in this area. In order to examine this conclusion, a new article by Erdal (2012) looked at the skeletal remains of a potential massacre site from the Early Bronze Age in Turkey.

... full story at Past Horizons.

February 19, 2012

Tassili-n-Ajjer rock art is at least 9000 years old

Tassili-n-Ajjer, the famous rock art site of the Central Sahara has been dated to 9-10 millennia ago or older, using OSL techniques.

Sources[fr]: Pileta, Hominides.com.

Academic ref. (PPV):  Norbert Mercier, Jean-Loïc Le Quellec et al., OSL dating of quaternar y deposits associated with the parietal art of the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau (Central Sahara), Quaternary Geochronolog y (2012), doi:10.1016/ j.quageo.2011.11.010


Note to readers: I am going to attempt to at least limit posts that deal with too many unrelated issues. So expect more of these shorter snippets. I hope is best for all.

February 17, 2012

Echoes from the Past (Feb 17)

And again a quick look to many things which have been showing up around the Net these last few days:

Neanderthal society

Bryan Hayden has a very interesting (and freely accessible!) paper at the Oxford Journal of Archaeology on reconstructing Neanderthals society, which was apparently much like ours for similar conditions (small operative bands of 12-30 people linked in larger ethnic and/or clannic groups through seasonal meetings and general social networks). M. Mozota has a quite interesting review at his blog as well for those who can read in Spanish.

Natufian Mesolithic Syrian site dug

The site of As-Suwayda (or Sweida), dated to c. 14-9 thousand years ago, had 12 circular huts, two of which were more complex, suggesting to some the beginnings of social stratification (or could be communal buildings?)  The two more complex (not larger) huts were located to the south of the village and show, one, inner divisions and an internal elevated platform, and, the other, external platforms and a trench. All huts are 4-5m. round.

The Natufian culture is one of the beginnings of sedentarism, as their members lived largely on recollection of wild cereals, although it is generally understood that there was no productive agriculture yet.

Neolithic driven by aridification in South Asia

D. Fuller at Indian Ocean Corridors discusses how an increasingly drier climate may have aided the expansion of agriculture in the Indian subcontinent:

The significant aridification recorded after ca. 4,000 years ago may have spurred the widespread adoption of sedentary agriculture in central and south India capable of providing surplus food in a less secure hydroclimate.

Relevant paper: Holocene aridification of India (C. Ponton et al. 2012, PPV)

Chalcolithic oxen traction in Iberia

A very interesting article in Spanish language by J.M. Arévalo discusses the use of animal traction in the Chalcolithic of Mucientes in the Northern Iberian Plateau during the 3rd millennium BCE (c. 2830-2290 BCE). Article available at Periodista Digital[es] and Asociación los Dólmenes[es].

The production, use and export of threshing teeth, made on flintstone at Cantalejo, emphasizes the almost necessary use of ox traction (horse domestication is unclear for the period while oxen remains are consistent with such kind of work). Interestingly the article is accompanied by an image of what may well be the oldest preserved wheel in Europe (Ljubljana, 4th millennium BCE, many centuries before Indoeuropean arrival, pictured).

Other archaeology/prehistory

Nerja rock art will be directly dated: the calcite layer over them will be dated so the doubts on authorship may be clarified. ··> Pileta[es].

East Asturian Magdalenian cave sites Tito Bustillo and El Buxu were used by the same group ··> Pileta[es].

Rock art found at Paleoindian site in Clarke Co., Virginia (USA) ··> Clarke Daily News.

England's Neolithic submerged town had market street ··> BBC

The IVC seal represents a goat
Rare Indus Valley Civilization seal found at Cholistan (Punjab) ··> Dawn.

20 megalithic cairn circles and an apparent fortification from the Iron Age found at Andrah Pradesh, India ··> Firstpost.

Conservation plan to protect the Hill of Tara (Ireland) ··> The Meath Chronicle.

Spanish language specialized open access e-magazine Trabajos de Prehistoria vol. 68, no. 2 is available.

Human genetics

You may want to take a look at the latest exploration of Northern Europe's autosomal genetics by Fennoscandia Biographic Project, using the most advanced analysis tools available (it seems): as always Scandinavians are somewhat distinct within Western Europe but Finnic peoples are a world on their own.

Other genetics

Rice varieties indica and japonica may have been independently domesticated (paper): Independent Domestication of Asian Rice Followed by Gene Flow from japonica to indica (Chin-chia Yang et al. at MBE, PPV).

February 16, 2012

Archaeological looting alert in Ptolemais, Libya

The Hellenistic city of Ptolemais (also known as Ptolemaida, Tolmeta and Tolmeitha) is being looted in an extensive and well organized manner. According to Ojos para la Paz[es] (Eyes for Peace):

Witnesses have declared that right now the coasts are being used for illegal trafficking. Also foreign bulldozers are visible, as well as digs and ships that look like fishing ships. Asking the locals what is going on, they say that there is people digging and do not want to be bothered. They are unknown people. In the excavated places men carrying vases to the ships can be seen. It is obvious that they are looting this site. We know that right now Libyan archaeological remains are being sold in Egypt and other countries.

February 12, 2012

Sorry, comment moderation was a mess

I must say that for some reason Blogger did not send any notice of your comments this week, so they got stuck in a queue that I was not even aware it existed.

They have been already published but I want to apologize for the delay. I was kind of surprised that there were no comments at all but well... I just expected to get a mail each time a comment arrived and that was not the case at all.

In any case comment moderation is over and hopefully will not need to be used ever again.

Sorry and thanks for your patience.

Echoes from the Past (Feb 12)

Some more links for you. 

I'm also lifting the temporary comment moderation filter, hopefully lessons have been learned and no more such measures will be needed. Thanks for your patience.

Prehistory of Europe

Pileta: Más sobre Unas focas pintadas por neandertales podrían ser la primera obra de arte...[es] - Salaman mentions that lack of economic resources do not allow to research further by the moment the possibility that the Nerja seals could have been drawn by Neanderthals. 

Pileta: Catalogan pinturas de Altamira que son 15.000 años más antiguas que los bisontes[es] - Some Altamira paintings are found to be 15,000 years older than the famous bisons. This may make them the oldest rock art in Europe (with permission of Nerja and comparable to Grotte Chauvet). No images of the early Aurignacian art are available yet but it is coincident with a trend to reclassify European rock art as of earlier age and Aurignacian period, as discussed here, but mostly not as early as in this case (before 30 Ka BP).

Neanderfollia[cat] offers us some interesting maps of the MP-UP transition in Europe: 

Prehistory of South Asia

AIOC: Lithic continuity & innovation in Holocene South India - D. Fuller introduces a new paper (ppv) on the Holocene industries of India (pictured below).

AIOC: Sourcing the 'lost Saraswati' river: new geological evidence - the same author, discusses how the lost Saraswati river does not match the Holocene geology of the subcontinent but could correspond with that of the Pleistocene.

How to feed a pregnant Neanderthal (AVRPI) - the almost always interesting archaeologist Julien Riel-Salvatore discusses several papers on the apparent myth of high protein Paleolithic diets.


Max Planck Institute Leipzig | A High Coverage Denisovan Genome - The Denisovan genome is available for all to explore (the researchers however request courtesy if used for academic publication).

Ultraconserved regions of the genome do not seem to have any particular importance:

Il tente de décrypter l'ADN de la langue basque (SudOuest)[fr] - Basque cultural journalist Hasier Etxeberria prepares a documentary on the various theories on the origins of the Basque language. 

Psychology and Biology

Tiny primate 'talks' in ultrasound - our distant Pinoy wild cousin, the tarsier, is not as silent as was thought, they just talk in ways we can't hear.

What elephants want: Ranging and raiding in Asia and Africa | EveryONE  - elephants in fragmented habitats need more land, they also follow the lead of the old ones when raiding crops.

February 8, 2012

Splitting hairs with the Neanderthal affinity

John Hawks published today an interesting albeit potentially misleading exercise of comparing (known) Neanderthal DNA (Vi33.16)  to moder humans by HGDP samples.

The first graphic is a for example a very visual representation of why geneticists have concluded that there is a percentage of Neanderthal admixture in non-African humans, a striking visual synthesis of the results of Green 2010 with other modern samples:

It is easy to see for all in this graph that if the median shared Neanderthal variants in Africans is c. 626,000, while in Eurasians is c. 644,000 (visual estimates), then there is something going on and admixture is the most likely explanation.

A simple cross-multiplication exercise shows that the admixture apportion using these medians would be c. 2.9%. However a cautionary use of a higher figure among the African variability range (likely not caused by admixture but retained ancestral diversity) such as 630,000 yields 2.2%.

Green 2010 and later reanalysis by the NGP team estimated 2.4% (although they initially talked of 1-4%), all of which illustrates how is not easy to come with an exact percentage figure and that some uncertainty remains and must remain by the very nature of the exercise and the samples involved.

Splitting hairs

But of course we love to split hairs, at least a bit. I must admit I did it myself back in the day with the handful of samples used by Green et al. originally. Then I was asking rhetorically: are Chinese slightly "more Neanderthal" than other Eurasians?

Not quite because of the uncertainty implied in all the comparison is the real answer: the apparent differences are too small to be significant.

And this more or less what Hawks ponders in his article. As you can see above Europeans appear now slightly more Neanderthal than East Asians. However the difference is actually trivial: approx. 1000 base pairs, what is a variance of 0.12 percentile points of that approx. 2.4% (Hawks writes 'half-percent' when talking of intra-European differences of the same range, but he must be measuring something else than I am: 0.005x2.4%=0.012%, maybe he meant 5%... of that 2.4%? Unsure and, as he does not allow comments, I can't ask).

However, in spite of formally acknowledging this insignificance of the differences, he goes on to state the following unlikely hypothesis:

At present, we can take as a hypothesis that Europeans have more Neandertal ancestry than Asians. If this is true, we can further guess that Europeans may have mixed with Neandertals as they moved into Europe, constituting a second process of population mixture beyond that shared by European and Asian ancestors.

While it's not absolutely impossible, the data does not support any meaningful extra admixture in Europeans but actually what it does support is the lack of any significative difference through Eurasia. IF there was any extra admixture in Europe (or better West Eurasia, what's the obsession with Europe?) it is not detectable and hence was surely hyper-minimal.

We are therefore before yet another case of wishful thinking, of which I have stumbled upon several, much more severe cases in the las weeks alone. The illusion of a Neanderthal admixture or assimilation or even full continuity into, specifically, modern Europeans (usually West Asia is totally ignored even if it was there where most of the Sapiens-Neanderthal interaction must have taken place) is an obsession difficult to put aside for some I am learning.

Hawks is still quite serious and scientific and knows the ropes of genetics quite a bit and, therefore, he does not insist on that too much, showing different angles and comparisons that are interesting albeit unsupportive of his outlined hypothesis. However he does not abandon that unlikely boat so obviously sinking.

I am realizing that it is much harder for some Eurocentric multiregionalists to abandon their old Neanderthalist hypothesis than I would have expected. After all the genetic data is there for all to see and I must say that Hawks provides us with highly informative eye-candy here, which clearly supports the Neanderthal admixture episode and the uniformity of it across the various Eurasian populations.

Yet he seems blinded by the C.I. variation, which is caused, no doubt, mostly or only by local founder effects and/or drift (after the Neanderthal admixture episode).

Illusion of African Neanderthal admixture

A good example is again provided by Hawks himself:

Yorubas here appear some 2000-3000 BPs more Neanderthal than Luhyas. Even Hawks admits to be puzzled by this result, which is obviously attributable to mere ancestral diversity within Homo sapiens (but not for him). He expected the opposite result: that Luhyas, who live in Kenya, would be more influenced by Eurasian back-flow into Africa and display some greater Neanderthal affinity. 

Actually this comparison does not just illustrate well how such small ranges of variation are normal and a remnant of ancestral diversity within the species (most probably) but also illustrates how Dienekes' hypothesis about Neanderthal admixture being in fact internal structure of Homo Sapiens before the migration out of Africa (or even after, because he has also argued for a greater role for Arabia and what not) is a total fantasy. 

Thanks for the interesting and beautiful graphs, Dr. Hawks, but I cannot agree with your hypothesis because I see zero support for it in your own data. I think you have a clear case of splitting hairs syndrome, probably a symptom of repressed multiregionalist grudge (Eurocentric Neanderthalist variant).

Comment moderation

Sorry but I am implementing comment moderation for a short while. Some people do not seem to understand that this is my blog and that ultimately I set the rules here, with permission of all-powerful Google and Interpol.

Some people do not seem to understand that this is not a forum in the classical sense (I allow free comment for the most part but there are better such spaces and, if there are not, go create one yourself) and that hijacking one comment after another to promote a personal obsession even if is within anthropology, without even bothering to write their own materials (for example in their own blog, which is after all nothing but a personal or group notebook - accessible or not, that's optional).

It makes zero sense for someone to show up here and expose a whole hypothesis in fragmented form in the comment section. Yet that is what TerryT has been doing for way too long. With time I have realized that he's being really abusive and sentences like "I'm just trying to put you on the correct track" are totally representative of his self-righteous stand, intellectual stalking of me personally and his abusive hijacking of the discussion threads of this blog.

This temporary moderation is directed towards Terry and nobody else. I intend not to publish a single comment by him anymore unless he first does his damn homework and publishes his hypothesis in an easily accessible way and understands that you can't go around doing that to people, that we have our personal space even online and that disagreeing is normal and not a reason for pseudo-intellectual proselytism of the worst kind.

As exception and in order to allow himself to defend his name, he can post here as long as it's on topic: his disciplining and his abuse of me and my blog (not anything about mtDNA stems or whatever other scientific opinion matter, that he will have to post at his blog). 

I really hate doing this but either I block his comments before publication or I react to them angrily or I censor him after publication what feels bad (I have done with some other pseudo-intellectual stalkers). He has been repeatedly warned and yet he has forced me to take this action by ignoring all red lights once and again. 

Hopefully the comment moderation will be lifted soon. Sorry for the inconvenience.


February 2, 2012

Echoes from the Past (Feb 2)

Lots of links that I think of interest but I do not have time, knowledge or enough discipline to deal with in greater detail.

Truly sorry about the format (or lack of it); I'm drowning in information.

Middle Paleolithic

Levallois core and flake (replica)
Neanderthal-made rock art?

Upper Paleolithic & Epipaleolithic

El joven de la cueva del Mirón fue enterrado hace 18.500 años[es] (the young man of El Mirón cave, Asturias, was buried 18,500 years ago)

Una sentencia da la razón a Zeleta S.L. y pone en peligro a Praileaitz[es] (tribunal puts Praileaitz cave, Basque Country, at even more risk)

Neolithic & Chalcolithic

Russian fish trap findings

Diversidad LBK y relaciones entre Neolíticos y Cazadores-Recolectores[es] (LBK diversity and relationships between Neolithic and hunter-gathererer peoples).

Modelos generales del Neolítico versus datos arqueológicos[es] (general modeling of Neolithic versus actual archaeological data)

Metal Ages and History
Malta inscription

«Tartessos no era un pueblo de catetos. Eran sensibles y técnicamente capacitados»[es] (Tartessos was not a redneck people: they were sensible and technically capable - there's been some Tartessos conference these days in Andalusia, with nothing new).

Aparecen en Liédena los restos de un poblado de la transición entre la Edad de Bronce y la de Hierro[es] (settlement from the Bronze-Iron ages' transition discovered in Liedena, Navarre)

Excavation of Bosnian Sun Pyramid given green light (remember the Bosnian "pyramid"? - it is back!)

Human genetics and evolution

Fig. 2 - PCA (BAM stands for Bamileke)

Master controller of memory identified (this is kind of scary: they wiped out memories in mice!)

Study Reveals Possible New Key to Human Evolution (synapsis making in early childhood allows for extreme learning)

Bonobos' unusual success story (like humans bonobo males are more successful at mating with relatively low testosterone levels).