Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Report on the Results of the 2013 Excavation Season at Tel Kabri

The 2013 excavations at Tel Kabri, the capital of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite
kingdom located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel, lasted from 23 June to 1
August 2013.

Highlights of the season included the discovery of a complex composed of
several rooms, located adjacent to the palace and the Orthostat Building in Area D-West,
one of which was fully excavated and which turned out to be filled with nearly forty
storage jars; additional fragments of painted wall plaster in Area D-South1; and an
additional large hall and rooms with plaster floors belonging to the palace in Area DWest
East, creating a 75-meter-long continuum of uninterrupted monumental

Full report

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Discovery of a 2,700-year-old portico in Greece

A 2,700-year-old portico was discovered this summer on the site of the ancient city of Argilos in northern Greece, following an archaeological excavation led by Jacques Perreault, Professor at the University of Montreal's Centre of Classical Studies and Zisis Bonias, an archaeologist with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.

In ancient Greece, the portico—stoa in Greek—was a long, open structure that often housed shops and delineated public squares from the city—the agora.

"Porticos are well known from the Hellenistic period, from the 3rd to 1st century BC, but earlier examples are extremely rare. The one from Argilos is the oldest example to date from northern Greece and is truly unique," said Jacques Perreault, who is a specialist of the Greek Archaic period (7th and 6th centuries BC.)

Located on the edge of the Aegean Sea, the ancient city of Argilos was the first Greek colony established in this area around the great Strymon River. At its peak in the 5th century BC, Argilos was one of the richest cities in the region.

Since 1992, Professor Perreault and Dr Bonias have excavated the hill covering Argilos and the University of Montreal has acquired some of the private land sitting on it. Acquisitions were made on behalf of the Greek government, but the excavators retain the rights over scientific research. The remains of the Argilos portico are located on one of these sites, at the northern end of what was the city's commercial district, 50 metres from the port area at the time.

Traces of the inhabitants' entrepreneurship

Archaelogical digs in 2013 unearthed a roughly 40-metre length of the portico. The open area once contained seven rooms, five of which have been excavated, each measuring 5 metres wide and 7.5 metres deep, with a 2.5-metre high back wall.

Since Argilos was prosperous, it is plausible that the portico was commissioned and built by the city. If this were the case, an architect would have overseen the construction and architectural integrity of the structure; there would have been no differences in the size of the stones used, and all the rooms would have been identical.

However, examination of the remains indicates just the contrary.

"The construction techniques and the stones used are different for one room to another, hinting that several masons were used for each room," Perreault said. "This indicates that the shop owners themselves were probably responsible for building the rooms, that 'private enterprise' and not the city was the source of this stoa."

A prosperous city falls into oblivion

In the Iron Age, northern Greece was an Eldorado. The valley of the Strymon River, whose mouth is located less than three kilometres from Argilos, overflowed with gold and silver mines.

With its ports and nearby mines, Argilos was a strategic location for trade in precious metals.

But its prosperity declined rapidly from the mid-5th century BC, when the Athenians founded the nearby city of Amphipolis. In 357 BC, Philip II conquered the whole region and deported the inhabitants from Argilos to Amphipolis, the new seat of the king of Macedonia.

Thus deserted, Argilos remained frozen in time, which is why it is possible today to discover its buildings and the many vestiges of human activity that characterized them.

A popular practicum location

Since it has been under the responsibility of Perreault and Bonias, the Argilos site has provided a practicum location for some 450 University of Montreal students under their supervision.

"Each year, 20 to 30 students spend four to six weeks at Argilos to learn excavation techniques and analysis of archaeological material, and to visit various archaeological sites in northern Greece," says Perreault.

And the experience is far from over. The portico itself has not yet been fully excavated, and according to the results of a three-metre deep geophysical survey, the structure appears to continue, and more discoveries thus await the archaeologists.

Hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived together for 2,000 years in Central Europe

Stone Age parallel societies existed up to 5,000 years ago / Forager genes also found in today's Europeans

Indigenous hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years in Central Europe, before the hunter-gatherer communities died out or adopted the agricultural lifestyle. The results come from a study undertaken by the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) that has just been published in the eminent journal Science. A team led by Mainz anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger studied bones from the 'Blätterhöhle' cave near Hagen in Germany, where both hunter-gatherers and farmers were buried. "It is commonly assumed that the Central European hunter-gatherers disappeared soon after the arrival of farmers", said Dr. Ruth Bollongino, lead author of the study. "But our study shows that the descendants of Mesolithic Europeans maintained their hunter-gatherer way of life and lived in parallel with the immigrant farmers, for at least 2,000 years. The hunter-gathering lifestyle thus only died out in Central Europe around 5,000 years ago, much later than previously thought."

Until around 7,500 years ago all central Europeans were hunter-gatherers. They were the descendants of the first anatomically modern humans to arrive in Europe, around 45,000 years ago, who survived the last Ice Age and the warming that started around 10,000 years ago. But previous genetic studies by Professor Burger's group indicated that agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle were brought to Central Europe around 7,500 years ago by immigrant farmers. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers died out or were absorbed into the farming populations.

The relationship between these immigrant agriculturalists and local hunter-gatherers has been poorly researched to date. The Mainz anthropologists have now determined that the foragers stayed in close proximity to farmers, had contact with them for thousands of years, and buried their dead in the same cave. This contact was not without consequences, because hunter-gatherer women sometimes married into the farming communities, while no genetic lines of farmer women have been found in hunter-gatherers. "This pattern of marriage is known from many studies of human populations in the modern world. Farmer women regarded marrying into hunter-gatherer groups as social anathema, maybe because of the higher birthrate among the farmers," explains Burger.

His palaeogenetics team is a worldwide leader in the field. For the study published in Science, the team examined the DNA from the bones from the 'Blätterhöhle' cave in Westphalia, which is being excavated by the Berlin archaeologist Jörg Orschiedt. It is one of the rare pieces of evidence of the continuing presence of foragers over a period of about 5,000 years.

For a long time the Mainz researchers were unable to make sense of the findings. "It was only through the analysis of isotopes in the human remains, performed by our Canadian colleagues, that the pieces of the puzzle began to fit," states Bollongino. "This showed that the hunter-gatherers sustained themselves in Central and Northern Europe on a very specialized diet that included fish, among other things, until 5,000 years ago.

The team also pursued the question of what impact both groups had on the gene pool of modern Europeans. Dr. Adam Powell, population geneticist at the JGU Institute of Anthropology, explains: "Neither hunter-gatherers nor farmers can be regarded as the sole ancestors of modern-day Central Europeans. European ancestry will reflect a mixture of both populations, and the ongoing question is how and to what extent this admixture happened."

It seems that the hunter-gatherers' lifestyle only died out in Central Europe 5,000 years ago. Agriculture and animal husbandry became the way of life from then on. However, some of the prehistoric farmers had foragers as ancestors, and the, hunter-gatherer genes are found in Central Europeans today.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New research refutes claim that mummified head belonged to King Henry IV of France

New research led by KU Leuven professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman exposes erroneous conclusions in forensic studies by Spanish and French researchers. They incorrectly ascribed a mummified head to Henry IV and a bloody handkerchief to Louis XVI.

Two purportedly royal relics recently surfaced on the collectors' market in France: a mummified head and a handkerchief with blood residues. The head was said to be that of French king Henry IV and the blood on the handkerchief that of King Louis XVI. This was confirmed by Spanish and French researchers, who reported positive DNA matches. Several historians voiced doubts about these claims and enrolled the help of forensic identification specialist Professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman and his team to investigate the relics.

Professor Cassiman's team compared the published DNA results from the head and the blood in the handkerchief with DNA samples obtained from three surviving descendants of the house of Bourbon, progeny of Henry IV. The genetic relationship between these three Bourbons, who come from different branches of the family line, is fixed on the basis of research carried out on the Y-chromosome. The DNA comparison found that there was no relationship between the Bourbons and the blood on the handkerchief, nor the mummified head. Two breaks in the biological line on the paternal side would have had to occur in order for the head and the blood to belong to the two French kings.

Likewise, there was no evidence on the maternal side (based on the mitochondrial DNA testing) suggesting a positive identification of the relics. The mother of Henry IV, Jeanne III d'Albret, is related via Anna of Habsburg in an unbroken maternal line to the Habsburgs, including Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVII. Here, once again, there would have to have been at least one break in the maternal line for the head to belong to King Henry IV. The probability that one of the women in King Henry IV lineage was not the real mother of her daughter, or of the king himself, is virtually non-existent.

Furthermore, DNA tests of the blood on the handkerchief show with 84.2% certainty that the blood belonged to a person who did not have blue eyes. It is known that King Louis XVI had blue eyes.

Based on these conclusions, the team of Professor Cassiman is unable to confirm the conclusions of their Spanish and French counterparts, given the available data. The blood on the handkerchief almost certainly does not belong to Louis XVI. Too little DNA remains were found on the mummified head to confirm or deny that it is the head of Henry IV, although historical data makes this identification unlikely.

According to the researchers, the study shows that a reliable genetic identification of historical remains requires a DNA profile of the living paternal and maternal descendants of the 'donor' to which the remains purportedly belong.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New information is discovered about the ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews

Professor Martin Richards, of the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield, has published a paper uncovering new information about how Ashkenazi Jewish men moved into Europe from the Middle East, and their marriage practices with European women.

The origins of Ashkenazi Jews – that is, Jews with recent ancestry in central and Eastern Europe – is a long-standing controversy. It is usually assumed that their ancestors migrated into Europe from Palestine in the first century AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, with some intermarriage with Europeans later on. But some have argued that they have a mainly European ancestry, and arose by conversion to Judaism of indigenous Europeans, especially in Italy. Others have even argued that they were largely assimilated in the North Caucasus during the time of the Khazar Empire, whose rulers turned to Judaism around of the tenth century AD.

Archaeogenetics can help to resolve this dispute. Y-chromosome studies have shown that the male line of descent does indeed seem to trace back to the Middle East. But the female line, which can be illuminated by studies of mitochondrial DNA has until now proved more difficult to interpret. This would be especially intriguing because Judaism has been inherited maternally for about 2000 years.

Professor Richards says "We have settled this issue by looking at large numbers of whole mitochondrial genomes – sequencing the full 16,568 bases of the molecule – in many people from across Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. We have found that, in the vast majority of cases, Ashkenazi lineages are most closely related to southern and western European lineages – and that these lineages have been present in Europe for many thousands of years."

This means that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they brought few or no wives with them. They seem to have married with European women, firstly along the Mediterranean, especially in Italy, and later (but probably to a lesser extent) in western and central Europe. This suggests that, in the early years of the Diaspora, Judaism took in many converts from amongst the European population, but they were mainly recruited from amongst women. Thus, on the female line of descent, the Ashkenazim primarily trace their ancestry neither to Palestine nor to Khazaria, but to southern and western Europe.