Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bronze Age Iberia received fewer steppe invaders than the rest of Europe


The genomes of individuals who lived on the Iberian Peninsula in the Bronze Age had minor genetic input from Steppe invaders, suggesting that these migrations played a smaller role in the genetic makeup and culture of Iberian people, compared to other parts of Europe. Daniel Bradley and Rui Martiniano of Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland, and Ana Maria Silva of University of Coimbra, Portugal, report these findings July 27, 2017 in PLOS Genetics.

Between the Middle Neolithic (4200-3500 BC) and the Middle Bronze Age (1740-1430 BC), Central and Northern Europe received a massive influx of people from the Steppe regions of Eastern Europe and Asia. Archaeological digs in Iberia have uncovered changes in culture and funeral rituals during this time, but no one had looked at the genetic impact of these migrations in this part of Europe.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of 14 individuals who lived in Portugal during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages and compared them to other ancient and modern genomes. In contrast with other parts of Europe, they detected only subtle genetic changes between the Portuguese Neolithic and Bronze Age samples resulting from small-scale migration. However, these changes are more pronounced on the paternal lineage.

"It was surprising to observe such a striking Y chromosome discontinuity between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, such as would be consistent with a predominantly male-mediated genetic influx" says first author Rui Martiniano. Researchers also estimated height from the samples, based on relevant DNA sequences, and found that genetic input from Neolithic migrants decreased the height of Europeans, which subsequently increased steadily through later generations.

The study finds that migration into the Iberian Peninsula occurred on a much smaller scale compared to the Steppe invasions in Northern, Central and Northwestern Europe, which likely has implications for the spread of language, culture and technology. These findings may provide an explanation for why Iberia harbors a pre-Indo-European language, called Euskera, spoken in the Basque region along the border of Spain and France. It has been suggested that Indo-European spread with migrations through Europe from the Steppe heartland; a model that fits these results.

Daniel Bradley says "Unlike further north, a mix of earlier tongues and Indo-European languages persist until the dawn of Iberian history, a pattern that resonates with the real but limited influx of migrants around the Bronze Age."

Present-day Lebanese descend from Biblical Canaanites


Scientists sequenced the genomes of 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals and compared these to other ancient and present-day populations

Thousands of years ago, the Canaanite people lived in a part of the world we now recognize as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, establishing a culture that became influential in the Middle East and beyond. The Canaanites created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and were mentioned many times in the Bible. But who were they and what ultimately happened to them? Were they annihilated like the Bible says?

Now, researchers who've sequenced the first ancient Canaanite genomes along with genomes representing people from modern-day Lebanon have new information to help answer those questions. DNA evidence reported in the American Journal of Human Genetics on July 27 shows that the Canaanites did not just disappear. Instead, they survived and are the ancestors of the people now living in modern-day Lebanon.

"We found that the Canaanites were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the region about 5,000 years ago," said Marc Haber (@MarcHaber) of The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom. "The present-day Lebanese are likely to be direct descendants of the Canaanites, but they have in addition a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have arrived via conquests by distant populations such as the Assyrians, Persians, or Macedonians."

Marc Haber, Chris Tyler-Smith, and colleagues came to that conclusion after sequencing the complete genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived almost 4,000 years ago in what's now the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon. They also sequenced the genomes of 99 present-day Lebanese. Those sequences enabled the researchers to analyze the Canaanites' ancestry and assess their relationship to the people living in Lebanon today.

The researchers estimate that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 3,800 to 2,200 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside. Despite all that moving around, the Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, they report, suggesting that there's been substantial genetic continuity in the region since at least the Bronze Age--a conclusion that agrees with the archaeological record.

"In light of the enormously complex history of this region in the last few millennia, it was quite surprising that over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites," Tyler-Smith said.

The findings highlight the utility of genetic studies for elucidating the history of people like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves. The researchers say they would now like to understand the earlier and later genetic history of Lebanon and how it relates to the surrounding regions.
 

In the most recent whole-genome study of ancient remains from the Near East, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute scientists and their collaborators sequenced the entire genomes of 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals who inhabited the region during the Bronze Age, and compared these to other ancient and present-day populations. The results, published today (27 July) in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggest that present-day Lebanese are direct descendants of the ancient Canaanites.

The Near East is often described as the cradle of civilisation. The Bronze Age Canaanites, later known as the Phoenicians, introduced many aspects of society that we know today - they created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and were mentioned several times in the Bible.

However, historical records of the Canaanites are limited. They were mentioned in ancient Greek and Egyptian texts, and the Bible which reports widespread destruction of Canaanite settlements and annihilation of the communities. Experts have long debated who the Canaanites were genetically, what happened to them, who their ancestors were and if they had any descendants today.

In the first study of its kind, scientists have uncovered the genetics of the Canaanite people and a firm link with people living in Lebanon today. The team discovered that more than 90 per cent of present-day Lebanese ancestry is likely to be from the Canaanites, with an additional small proportion of ancestry coming from a different Eurasian population. Researchers estimate that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 2,200 to 3,800 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside.

The analysis of ancient DNA also revealed that the Canaanites themselves were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the area around 5,000 years ago.

In the study, researchers sequenced whole genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived 4,000 years ago in a city known as Sidon in present-day Lebanon. Scientists also sequenced the genomes of 99 present-day Lebanese and analysed the genetic relationship between the ancient Canaanites and modern Lebanese.

Dr Marc Haber, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: "It was a pleasant surprise to be able to extract and analyse DNA from 4,000-year-old human remains found in a hot environment, which is not known for preserving DNA well. We overcame this challenge by taking samples from the petrous bone in the skull, which is a very tough bone with a high density of ancient DNA. This method of extraction combined with the lowering costs of whole genome sequencing made this study possible."

Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, co-author and Director of the Sidon excavation site* in Lebanon, said: "For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day. These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists. Collaborations between archaeologists and geneticists greatly enrich both fields of study and can answer questions about ancestry in ways that experts in neither field can answer alone."

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: "Genetic studies using ancient DNA can expand our understanding of history, and answer questions about the likely origins and descendants of enigmatic populations like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves. Now we would like to investigate the earlier and later genetic history of the Near East, and how it relates to the surrounding regions."

The dynamics of prehistoric social networks in the Balkans


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In the first ever archaeological study of its kind, two researchers have combined the chemical analyses of dozens of the world's earliest copper artefacts and modularity approach in order to identify prehistoric networks of co-operation during the early development of European metalmaking. This study has led them one step further: the communities that co-operated the most largely belonged to the same archaeological culture, thus revealing a novel method for an independent evaluation of the archaeological record.

Archaeological systematics, particularly in prehistory, use the accumulation of similar material traits or dwelling forms in archaeological sites to designate distinctive 'archaeological cultures'; however, what these expressions of similarity represent and at what resolution remain a major problem in the field of archaeology.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Complex Networks, takes an alternative approach by measuring the strength of links between archaeological sites instead and produces pioneering models of human interaction and cooperation that can be evaluated independently of established archaeological systematics. It focuses on a comprehensive archaeological database of copper artefacts from the Balkans, dated from c. 6200 BC to 3200 BC -- the first 3,000 years of known copper mineral and metal use in Europe.

Chemical composition of these artefacts is the sole information used for modularity analysis, hence isolated from any archaeological and spatiotemporal information. The results are, however, archaeologically and spatiotemporally meaningful for the evolution of the world's earliest copper supply network.

Dr Jelena Gruji?, physicist from the Vrije University in Brussels, explains the novelty of this method for archaeological research: "Although there are a few approaches that archaeologists use to infer models of circulation of metals in the past, and hence indicate prehistoric economic and social ties, the modularity analysis offers for the first time an option to test the significance of our results, and hence a method that is mathematically reliable and replicable".

Dr Miljana Radivojevi?, lead author and researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge commented, "Being able to infer social groups with strong spatial and temporal significance in archaeological data using this network property is a real game changer. This study is major step towards evaluating technological, economic and social phenomena in the human past - anywhere".

Evidence of Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem Found at the City of David




Evidence of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians is currently being unearthed in the City of David in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the Jerusalem Walls National Park, funded by the City of David Foundation (Elad). In the excavations – concentrated on the eastern slope of the City of David, dwelling places 2,500 years old, once covered by a rockslide, have been revealed. Nestled within the rockslide many findings have surfaced: charred wood, grape seeds, pottery, fish scales and bones, and unique, rare artifacts. These findings depict the affluence and character of Jerusalem, capital of the Judean Kingdom, and are mesmerizing proof of the city's demise at the hands of the Babylonians. 



Among the excavation's salient findings were dozens of jugs which served to store both grain and liquids, a stamp seal appearing on some of them. Furthermore, one of the seals discovered was that of a rosette, a six-petal rose. 

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation directors: "These seals are characteristic of the end of the First Temple Period and were used for the administrative system that developed towards the end of the Judean dynasty. Classifying objects facilitated controlling, overseeing, collecting, marketing and storing crop yields. The rosette, in essence, replaced the 'For the King' seal used by the previous administrative system."

The wealth of the Judean kingdom's capital is also manifest in the ornamental artifacts surfacing in situ. One distinct and rare finding is a small ivory statue of a woman. The figure is naked, and her haircut or wig is Egyptian in style. The quality of its carving is high, and it attests to the high caliber of the artifacts' artistic level and the skill par excellence of the artists during this era. 

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation managers, "The excavation's findings unequivocally show that Jerusalem had spread outside of the city walls before its destruction. A row of structures currently under excavation appears beyond the city wall that constituted the eastern border of the city during this period. Throughout the Iron Age, Jerusalem underwent constant growth, expressed both in the construction of the city wall and the fact that the city later spread beyond it. Excavations carried out in the past in the area of the Jewish Quarter have shown how the growth of the community at the end of the 8th Century BCE caused the annexation of the western area of Jerusalem. In the current excavation, we may suggest that following the westward expansion of the city, structures were built outside of the wall’s border on the east as well."

Impressive 2,700-Year-Old Water System Discovered Near Rosh Ha-Ayin

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An impressively large 2,700-year-old water system was recently exposed at Israel Antiquities Authority excavations near Rosh Ha-Ayin with the help of students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology studies. The excavation precedes the construction of a new residential neighborhood initiated by the Ministry of Construction and Housing.



According to Gilad Itach, director of excavations for the IAA, “It is difficult not to be impressed by the sight of the immense underground reservoir quarried out so many years ago. In antiquity, rainwater collection and storage was a fundamental necessity. With an annual rainfall of 500 mm, the region’s winter rains would easily have filled the huge reservoir. On its walls, near the entrance, we identified engravings of human figures, crosses, and a vegetal motif that were probably carved by passersby in a later period. Overall, we identified seven figures measuring 15–30 cm. Most have outstretched arms and a few appear to be holding some kind of object.”

The water system exposed is nearly 20 m long and reaches a depth of over 4 m. The excavations reveal that the reservoir was built beneath a large structure with walls that are all nearly 50 m long. Some of the potsherds found on the floors of the rooms probably belonged to vessels used to draw water from the reservoir. It is highly likely that the structure and the reservoir were built at the end of the Iron Age (late eighth or early seventh century BCE), but whereas the building was abandoned during the Persian period the reservoir was still in use until modern times.

In recent years, a number of other farmsteads built at the end of the First Temple period have been discovered near Rosh Ha-Ayin. They were probably erected after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in 720 BCE, when the Assyrian empire dominated the region. The establishment of farmhouses in this area is interesting, given the fact that many regions within the decimated Kingdom of Israel remained desolate. Some scholars believe that the establishment of the farmsteads was motivated by the empire’s wish to settle the area, which lay on an international route and near the western border of the Assyrian empire. According to Itach, “The structure exposed in this excavation is different from most of the previously discovered farmsteads. Its orderly plan, vast area, strong walls, and the impressive water reservoir hewn beneath it suggest that the site was administrative in nature and it may well have controlled the surrounding farmsteads.”

High-school students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology track participated in the Rosh Ha-Ayin excavations as part of the Ministry and the IAA’s new educational program, which is designed to connect students with the past and train the archaeologists of tomorrow. Students opting for this track as part of their chosen matriculation assessment join an excavation for a week. They experience the various tasks involved in the excavation, discuss the research questions and archaeological considerations, and document the dig in the excavation journal as part of their research work.

Numerous pieces of jewelry, cooking artifacts found in Crusader fortress


So just how did 900-year-old rings, bracelets, earrings and hairpins come to be in the kitchen of a Crusader fortress tower in Modiin?


Tittora Hill is a unique and fascinating archaeological site within the municipal boundaries of Modi?in-Maccabim-Re?ut. Previous archaeological excavations on the hill have revealed evidence of its occupation from the Chalcolithic period (c. 6,000 years ago) up to the modern era. The hill is in a strategic location – on the main ascent route from the coastal plain to Jerusalem – and is surrounded by fertile valleys that were used as farmland and were able to support the hill’s inhabitants throughout the generations.

According to Avraham Tendler, excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The students and volunteers from Modi?in have exposed the inner courtyard of the Crusader fortress. Here, the fortress’s occupants cooked and baked for hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, some 900 years ago. Ancient clay ovens (tabuns), cooking pots, jars, serving dishes, and a table were discovered in the ancient kitchen, as well as numerous remains of food such as olive pits, pulses, charred grape pips, and animal bones. It seems that the cooks of the time were not sufficiently careful with the jewelry they wore while cooking and baking, since numerous pieces of jewelry have been found in the excavation, some made of bronze and silver.” 

Most of the jewelry has been found by volunteer archaeologist Mati Yohananoff, who is a regular participant in the excavation. “Throughout the entire site, we have found many metal objects including coins, rings, bracelets and cosmetic tools,” he said. “These finds indicate the kind of activity traditionally associated with women’s domestic work.” Long-standing residents of the town coming to excavate with other volunteers are exploring the foundations of the fortress and skillfully exposing a large building from the Roman period hidden beneath the Crusader fortress.


Evidence of the Last Battle for Jerusalem from 2,000 Years Ago


The Israel Antiquities Authority has unveiled evidence from 2,000 year ago of the battle of Jerusalem on the eve of the destruction of the Second Temple, at the City of David in the Jerusalem Walls National Park. Arrowheads and stone ballista balls were discovered on the main street that ascended from the city’s gates and the Pool of Siloam to the Temple, which was excavated in recent years with funding provided by the City of David Society (Elad).

These finds tell the story of the last battle between the Roman forces and the Jewish rebels who had barricaded themselves in the city, a battle that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. This battle is described by the historian Flavius Josephus: "On the following day the Romans, having routed the brigands from the town, set the whole on fire as far as Siloam" (Josephus, Wars, Book 6:363)

According to Nahshon Szanton and Moran Hagbi, the directors of the excavation on the stepped-street on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Josephus’ descriptions of the battle in the lower city come face-to-face for the first time with evidence that was revealed in the field in a clear and chilling manner. Stone ballista balls fired by catapults used to bombard Jerusalem during the Roman siege of the city, were discovered in the excavations. Arrowheads, used by the Jewish rebels in the hard-fought battles agains the Roman legionnaires were found exactly as described by Josephus."

So far, a section of the road c. 100 m long and 7.5 m wide, paved with large stone slabs as was customary in monumental construction throughout the Roman Empire, has been exposed in the excavations. The archeological excavations on the street utilize a combination of advanced and pioneering research methods, the results of which so far strengthen the understanding that Herod the Great was not solely responsible for the large construction projects of Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period.

Recent research indicates that the street was built after Herod’s reign, under the auspices of the Roman procurators of Jerusalem, and perhaps even during the tenure of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who is also known for having sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion.

According to the exacvation's directors,  Szanton and Hagbi,
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"This conclusion in fact sheds new light on the history of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple Period, and reinforces recognition of the importance of the Roman procurators’ rule in shaping the character of Jerusalem".

 “Two thousand years after the destruction of Jerusalem and fifty years since its liberation”, the archaeologists added, “we are going back to the water cisterns, the market and the city square on the eve of its destruction. Naomi Shemer certainly never dreamed of re-discovering Jerusalem in the days of the Second Temple”.

 According to Dr. Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem region archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, "We intend to uncover the entire length and width of the street within five years, and thereby complete the excavation of this unique site which had already drawn the attention of archaeologists from around the world about one hundred years ago. In fact, one can consider the current excavations in the City of David a natural continuation of the previous archaeological excavations of the site, which were begun in the past by European and American scholars.

About four years ago archeological excavations were renewed along the street, this time in order to expose its full length and width”. Baruch added, “When the excavations are completed, the remains of the street will be conserved and developed and made ready to receive the tens of thousands of visitors who will walk along it”.

In recognizing the importance of the site and the finds, IAA researchers chose to utilize advanced cutting-edge research methods from the fields of natural science, biology and geology in their excavations. A combination of these advanced techniques makes the excavation of the stepped-street in the City of David exceptional in its scientific quality and importance in the development of archaeological research in Jerusalem and Israel in general, and they enable researchers to address questions that have not yet been studied.

The current excavations also focus on exposing the area adjacent to the street, and the shops that were alongside it. Finds revealed in the excavations will allow researchers to answer such intriguing questions as: What did the main street that led to the Temple look like? What was the urban nature of the Lower City that extended on either side of the magnificent road? What did they eat in Jerusalem during the difficult siege, etc.? In order to answer these questions, a multidisciplinary study is being conducted, as well as careful wet sifting at the sifting site in the Zurim Valley National Park, where even the smallest finds are collected.

 It seems that it will not be long before it will be possible for the first time to walk along one of the main streets of ancient Jerusalem, to see how it looked, and receive answers to fascinating historical questions that have been asked for 100 years relating to the history of Jerusalem from the time of the Second Temple, at the height of its splendor, and from the moments of its destruction.