Monday, October 22, 2012

A comprehensive analysis of the anthropological and genetic history of humans' expansion out of Africa

A new, comprehensive review of humans' anthropological and genetic records gives the most up-to-date story of the "Out of Africa" expansion that occurred about 45,000 to 60,000 years ago.

This expansion, detailed by three Stanford geneticists, had a dramatic effect on human genetic diversity, which persists in present-day populations. As a small group of modern humans migrated out of Africa into Eurasia and the Americas, their genetic diversity was substantially reduced.

In studying these migrations, genomic projects haven't fully taken into account the rich archaeological and anthropological data available, and vice versa. This review integrates both sides of the story and provides a foundation that could lead to better understanding of ancient humans and, possibly, genomic and medical advances.

"People are doing amazing genome sequencing, but they don't always understand human demographic history" that can help inform an investigation, said review co-author Brenna Henn, a postdoctoral fellow in genetics at the Stanford School of Medicine who has a PhD in anthropology from Stanford. "We wanted to write this as a primer on pre-human history for people who are not anthropologists."

This model of the Out of Africa expansion provides the framework for testing other anthropological and genetic models, Henn said, and will allow researchers to constrain various parameters on computer simulations, which will ultimately improve their accuracy.

"The basic notion is that all of these disciplines have to be considered simultaneously when thinking about movements of ancient populations," said Marcus Feldman, a professor of biology at Stanford and the senior author of the paper. "What we're proposing is a story that has potential to explain any of the fossil record that subsequently becomes available, and to be able to tell what was the size of the population in that place at that time."

The anthropological information can inform geneticists when they investigate certain genetic changes that emerge over time. For example, geneticists have found that genes for lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity began to emerge in populations expanding into Europe around 10,000 years ago.

The anthropological record helps explain this: It was around this time that humans embraced agriculture, including milk and wheat production. The populations that prospered – and thus those who survived to pass on these mutations – were those who embraced these unnatural food sources. This, said Feldman, is an example of how human movements drove a new form of natural selection.

Populations that expand from a small founding group can also exhibit reduced genetic diversity – known as a "bottleneck" – a classic example being the Ashkenazi Jewish population, which has a fairly large number of genetic diseases that can be attributed to its small number of founders. When this small group moved from the Rhineland to Eastern Europe, reproduction occurred mainly within the group, eventually leading to situations in which mothers and fathers were related. This meant that offspring often received the same deleterious gene from each parent and, as this process continued, ultimately resulted in a population in which certain diseases and cancers are more prevalent.

"If you know something about the demographic history of populations, you may be able to learn something about the reasons why a group today has a certain genetic abnormality – either good or bad," Feldman said. "That's one of the reasons why in our work we focus on the importance of migration and history of mixing in human populations. It helps you assess the kinds of things you might be looking for in a first clinical assessment. It doesn't have the immediacy of prescribing chemotherapy – it's a more general look at what's the status of human variability in DNA, and how might that inform a clinician."

The study is published in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was co-authored by Feldman's longtime collaborator, population geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford and the Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Italy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The exact spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed located

Archaeologists believe they have found the exact spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed and killed by a group of rival Roman senators more than 2,000 years ago.

Caesar, who was the head of the Roman Republic, was stabbed to death by a group of senators, including his friend Brutus, during the Ides of March, March 15, 44 BC.

Archaeologists recently announced in a new Spanish National Research Council report that they have unearthed a large concrete structure almost 10 feet wide by 6.5 feet tall, which they believe was erected by Augustus, Julius Caesar’s successor, to condemn the assassination of the former leader.

The concrete structure is located at the base of the Curia (theater) of Pompey, which is the same spot classical writers report that the stabbing took place.


New discoveries at Bethsaida

Complete article

... Dr. Nicolae Roddy... and his excavation colleagues were assigned to carefully uncover and explore an area that contained finds of the Roman period of ancient Bethsaida, the fishing town that was, according to the Biblical account, the home of the New Testament Christian apostles Peter, Andrew and Phillip, and likely James and John as well.

"We uncovered a paved street from the time of Jesus's disciples, which runs westward through the residential area from the corner of the Fisherman's House [an excavated structural feature so-named because of the fishing implements associated with it] down toward the Jordan valley", said Roddy. "I tell people that Andrew, Peter, and Phillip almost certainly walked on it because they would have had to have gone out of their way to avoid it!"

The paved road is actually only one feature among many remarkable finds uncovered in recent years during excavations at the ancient site. Identifying it as the possible site of Bethsaida in 1987, University of Nebraska's Dr. Rami Arav, Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project for more than 20 years, has thus far revealed a settlement site that saw human occupation from before the time of the early Israelite and Judahite kings up through Hellenistic and Roman times and beyond. And although the site is best known in the literature as the birth and dwelling place of some of the Christian apostles and the fishing village frequented by Jesus where some of the best-known miracles of the Biblical account were performed, it is now also thought to be the site where, 3,000 years ago, the ancient Geshurites established the capital of their kingom (Biblical Geshure). Among the more ancient finds of this earlier period are a massive 4-chambered city gate complex, massive defensive walls, a palace, and clear evidence of a destruction event dated to the time of the invasion by the Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III in 732 B.C.

The Kingdom of Geshur is known from the Hebrew Bible as being closely allied with ancient Israel during the period of the United Monarchy of kings David and Solomon, and for having been visited by King David, who married Ma'achah, the daughter of the king of Geshur...

Evidence of 2nd Viking Outpost Found in Canada

Complete, very interesting article

...Archaeologist Patricia Sutherland (has) announced new evidence that points strongly to the discovery of the second Viking outpost ever discovered in the Americas.

...Archaeologists have long known that Viking seafarers set sail for the New World
around A.D. 1000. A popular Icelandic saga tells of the exploits of Leif Eriksson, a Viking chieftain from Greenland who sailed westward to seek his fortune. According to the saga, Eriksson stopped long enough on Baffin Island to walk the coast—named Helluland, an Old Norse word meaning "stone-slab land"—before heading south to a place he called Vinland.

In the 1960s two Norwegian researchers, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated the Viking base camp at L'Anse aux Meadows (map) on the northern tip of Newfoundland—the first confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. Dated to between 989 and 1020, the camp boasted three Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair.

As reported in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, Sutherland first caught wind of another possible Viking way station in 1999, when she spotted two unusual pieces of cord that had been excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

Sutherland noticed that the strands bore little resemblance to the animal sinew Arctic hunters twisted into cordage. The cords turned out to be expertly woven Viking yarn, identical in technique to yarn produced by Viking women living in Greenland in the 14th century.

The discovery prompted Sutherland to scour other museum collections for more Viking artifacts from Baffin Island and other sites. She found more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear, from wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions to dozens of Viking whetstones...

...Since 2001 Sutherland's team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and carefully excavating surviving parts of the mysterious ruins. They have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry; and more Viking yarn and whetstones. And the stone ruins bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Archaeologists to mount new expedition to Troy

Troy, the palatial city of prehistory, sacked by the Greeks through trickery and a fabled wooden horse, will be excavated anew beginning in 2013 by a cross-disciplinary team of archaeologists and other scientists, it was announced today (Monday, Oct. 15).

The new expedition will be led by University of Wisconsin-Madison classics Professor William Aylward, an archaeologist with long experience digging in the ruins of classical antiquity, including Troy itself. The new international project at Troy, to be conducted under the auspices of and in cooperation with Turkey's Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, will begin a series of summer-time expeditions beginning in 2013.

"Troy is a touchstone of Western civilization," says Aylward. "Although the site has been excavated in the past, there is much yet to be discovered. Our plan is to extend work to unexplored areas of the site and to systematically employ new technologies to extract even more information about the people who lived here thousands of years ago."

Troy and the Trojan War were immortalized in Homer's epic poem the Iliad centuries after the supposed events of the conflict. The site was occupied almost continuously for about 4,500 years, from the beginning of the Bronze Age to the 13th century A.D., when it was abandoned and consigned to myth. It was rediscovered in the 1870s by the wealthy German businessman and pioneering archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann whose work at Troy laid the foundations for modern archaeology.

"Our goal is to add a new layer of information to what we already know about Troy," says Aylward, who is contributing an international team of archaeologists and scientists to conduct what promises to be the most comprehensive dig since Troy's discovery over 140 years ago. "The archaeological record is rich. If we take a closer look with new scientific tools for study of ancient biological and cultural environments, there is much to be found for telling the story of this world heritage site."

The site of Troy is in modern Turkey and is situated on the Dardanelles, a crossroads between East and West and a flashpoint for conflict in both ancient and modern times. The archaeological site is a complex layer cake of history and prehistory, with 10 cities superimposed one atop the other, some with clear evidence for violent destruction.

Following the demise of Troy at the end of the Bronze Age, the site was re-settled by Greeks, Romans and others, who all claimed Homer's Troy and its cast of characters – Achilles, Helen, Patroclus, Priam and Ajax – as their own cultural heritage. The ancient city was visited by the Persian general Xerxes, Alexander the Great, and Roman emperors, including Augustus and Hadrian. Homer's epic poems about a lost age of heroes and the legendary Trojan War have endured as sources of inspiration for art and literature ever since.

Although archaeologists have been digging at Troy for almost 140 years, with the exception of a 50-year hiatus between 1938 and 1988, less than one-fifth of the site has been scientifically excavated. With about 4,500 years of nearly uninterrupted settlement at a crossroads between Europe and Asia, Troy is fundamental for questions about the development of civilization in Europe and the Near East. "Troy deserves a world-class archaeological program," says Aylward.

In its heyday, Troy's citadel, with walls 12 feet thick and more than 30 feet high, was about 6 acres in size. A walled lower town covered an expanse of 50 acres, much of which is unexplored. Mysteries abound. Ancient Troy's royal cemetery, for example, has yet to be discovered and archaeologists are eager to add to the single example of prehistoric writing known from Troy, a small bronze seal from the Bronze Age.

"Major gaps in our knowledge involve the identity of the prehistoric Trojans, the location of their principal cemeteries and the nature of their writing system," says Aylward. "The enduring question of the historicity of the Trojan War is also worthy of further exploration."

In future work at Troy, Aylward plans an array of collaborations in order to deploy powerful new scientific techniques to reveal the hidden record of the ancient city and its inhabitants. New methods to examine chemical residues on pottery from ancient kitchens and banquet halls, for example, may reveal secrets of ancient Trojan culinary proclivities, and genomic analyses of human and animal remains may shed light on diseases and afflictions at a crossroads of civilization.

Much of the new work in the area of "molecular archaeology," which includes DNA sequencing and protein analysis, will be conducted in collaboration with the UW-Madison Biotechnology Center, which has become an active partner in the new Troy project. This past summer, researchers from the center participated in reconnaissance for future studies.

The new Wisconsin expedition to Troy builds on years of existing work and international collaboration at the site. The new program to be inaugurated in 2013 will be conducted under the auspices of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, which is situated near the site of Troy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tomb of Maya queen K’abel discovered in Guatemala

Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization.
The tomb was discovered during excavations of the royal Maya city of El Perú-Waka’ in northwestern Petén, Guatemala, by a team of archaeologists led by Washington University in St. Louis’ David Freidel, co-director of the expedition.

A small, carved alabaster jar (PICTURED ABOVE) found in the burial chamber caused the archaeologists to conclude the tomb was that of Lady K’abel.

The white jar is carved as a conch shell, with a head and arm of an aged woman emerging from the opening. The depiction of the woman, mature with a lined face and a strand of hair in front of her ear, and four glyphs carved into the jar, point to the jar as belonging to K’abel.

Based on this and other evidence, including ceramic vessels found in the tomb and stela (large stone slab) carvings on the outside, the tomb is likely that of K’abel, says Freidel, PhD, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences and Maya scholar.

Freidel says the discovery is significant not only because the tomb is that of a notable historical figure in Maya history, but also because the newly uncovered tomb is a rare situation in which Maya archaeological and historical records meet.

“The Classic Maya civilization is the only ‘classical’ archaeological field in the New World — in the sense that like archaeology in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia or China, there is both an archaeological material record and an historical record based on texts and images,” Freidel says.

WUSTL archaeologist David Freidel, PhD, was part of a team that discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization.

“The precise nature of the text and image information on the white stone jar and its tomb context constitute a remarkable and rare conjunction of these two kinds of records in the Maya area.”

The burial chamber. The queen’s skull is above the plate fragments.

The discovery of the tomb of the great queen was “serendipitous, to put it mildly,” Freidel says.

The team at El Perú-Waka’ has focused on uncovering and studying “ritually-charged” features such as shrines, altars and dedicatory offerings rather than on locating burial locations of particular individuals.

“In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that the people of Waka’ buried her in this particularly prominent place in their city,” Freidel says.

Olivia Navarro-Farr, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology at the College of Wooster in Ohio, originally began excavating the locale while still a doctoral student of Freidel’s. Continuing to investigate this area this season was of major interest to both she and Freidel because it had been the location of a temple that received much reverence and ritual attention for generations after the fall of the dynasty at El Perú.

With the discovery, archaeologists now understand the likely reason why the temple was so revered: K’abel was buried there, Freidel says.

Drawing of the glyphs on the back of the alabaster vessel (pictured at top of story) by Stanley Guenter.

K’abel, considered the greatest ruler of the Late Classic period, ruled with her husband, K’inich Bahlam, for at least 20 years (672-692 AD), Freidel says. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title “Kaloomte’,” translated to “Supreme Warrior,” higher in authority than her husband, the king.

K’abel also is famous for her portrayal on the famous Maya stela, Stela 34 of El Perú, now in the Cleveland Art Museum.

El Perú-Waka’, located approximately 75 km west of the famous city of Tikal, is an ancient Maya city in northwestern Petén, Guatemala. It was part of Classic Maya civilization (200-900 AD) in the southern lowlands and consists of nearly a square kilometer of plazas, palaces, temple pyramids and residences surrounded by many square kilometers of dispersed residences and temples.

This discovery was made under the auspices of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Guatemala. The El Perú-Waka’ project is sponsored by the Foundation for the Cultural and Natural Patrimony of Guatemala (PACUNAM).

The project was originally funded by the Jerome E. Glick Foundation of St. Louis and has received support from the Alphawood Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of the Interior, in addition to private benefactors.