Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Analysis of Iron Age ceramics suggests complex pattern of Eastern Mediterranean trade

Cypriot-style pottery may have been locally produced as well as imported and traded in Turkey during the Iron Age, according to a study published November 30, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Steven Karacic from Florida State University, USA, and James Osborne of the University of Chicago, USA.

White Painted and Bichrome Wares are Cypriot-style ceramics produced during the Iron Age that may provide clues about trade in the Eastern Mediterranean at that time. Although these ceramics are often assumed to be imports from Cyprus, excavations in southern Turkey have suggested that some pottery was produced locally, challenging previous assumptions about trade in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The authors of the present study analyzed White Painted and Bichrome Wares recovered from three sites in the Hatay region of Turkey: Tell Tayinat, Çatal Höyük, and Tell Judaidah, using techniques which bombarded the pottery with x-rays and neutrons, providing insight into the chemical elements they contained. Imported and local versions of this pottery had different elemental compositions, which helped the authors determine where this pottery was produced. When compared with existing datasets, the researchers found that Çatal Höyük and Tell Judaidah may only have had access to pottery imported from Cyprus whereas Tell Tayinat may have made Cypriot-style pottery locally as well as importing it.

The authors suggest that feasting practices amongst the affluent in Tell Tayinat may have driven demand for Cypriot-style pottery, resulting in either local potters producing this pottery or Cypriot potters settling in the vicinity. Usually, pottery styles are expected to become increasingly rare the further away they are found from their origin of production, so these findings suggest a complex pattern of exchange in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Iron Age.

"We were surprised to find that locally produced Cypriot-style pottery was consumed at Tell Tayinat but not the other sites included in our study," says Karacic. "These results indicate complex social and economic interactions between the Amuq and Cyprus that we are only just beginning to understand for the Iron Age."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Early America: Evidence of original 1620 Plymouth settlement discovered

Students with the remains of Constance the calf.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Massachusetts Boston

Three hundred and ninety-five years after Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, researchers from UMass Boston's Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research can say they have definitively discovered evidence of the original 1620 Plymouth settlement. Part of the proof involves a calf that UMass Boston students have affectionately named Constance.

For the fourth summer, David Landon, associate director of the Fiske Center, led a group of undergraduate and graduate students in a field school in Plymouth offered through UMass Boston's College of Advancing and Professional Studies. Landon and the students spent five weeks on Burial Hill looking for the site of the original Pilgrim settlement. ​Landon's goal when he started was to find evidence of the original settlement prior to the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth Colony in 2020. He met his goal four years early, in the first year of a three-year, $200,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant.

Because the original structures weren't built with bricks, the research team couldn't look for foundations. Rather, they had to look for "post and ground construction" -- basically holes for wood, and dirt.

"While we're digging, we're constantly in the process of trying to interpret what we're finding. It really goes to just moving slowly and trying to see if there are any patterns in the flow that we can map out. As soon as that starts, it becomes a slow process. It's about much more than the artifacts -- it's about trying to pin down soil color and trying to understand constructed features that are no longer there," Landon said.

But then Landon's team did start finding 17th century artifacts: 17th century pottery, tins, trade beads, and musket balls -- around that post and ground construction. Landon says the students and researchers were at this point cautiously optimistic that they had found a location inside the settlement walls. And then they found "Constance" -- a calf buried whole in the bottom-most pit. Because native people didn't have domestic cattle, Landon says we know that she lived -- and died -- in the confines of the original Plymouth settlement.

"Constance is a great symbol of this. Oftentimes success in the colony depended on herds of cattle. It became a centerpiece of the economy. So the calf does connect us to that story," Landon said.

Kathryn Ness is the curator of collections at Plimoth Plantation, UMass Boston's partner in this project. She says this discovery is huge.

"Finding evidence of colonial activity inside the original 1620 Plymouth settlement is an incredibly exciting discovery that has the potential to change dramatically our understanding of early European colonization in New England. For the first time, we have proof of where the settlement was located and what kinds of items the Pilgrims owned and used," Ness said. "At Plimoth Plantation, the team's findings will help us further refine our exhibits, as we use archaeological evidence and historical documents as the basis for our portrayal of the past and to ensure that our buildings, activities, and reproduction objects are as accurate as possible. We are looking forward to learning more about their discoveries and seeing what they find next season!"

Landon and more students and researchers will be back next summer.

"We've opened the first window but we want a bigger view. We want the bay window. We want to see if we can find other components," Landon said.

For now, researchers and students are cleaning, labeling, and researching what was found this past summer. They're also going to be trying to figure out how Constance died and why she was buried, rather than eaten.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Israel: 3,800 Year Old Pottery Vessel with the 3-D Image of a Person

The vessel was discovered together with daggers, an axe head and arrowheads that were apparently buried as funerary offerings for one of the respected members of the ancient settlement.

Photographer: Clara Amit

A small extraordinary jug from the Middle Bronze Age was revealed with the assistance of pupils in the Land of Israel and Archaeology matriculation stream in an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological excavation that was recently conducted in the city of Yehud prior to the construction of residential buildings.

According to Gilad Itach, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “It literally happened on the last day of the excavation when right in front of our eyes and those of the excited students an unusual ceramic vessel c. 18 cm high was exposed that bears the image of a person. It seems that at first the jug, which is typical of the period, was prepared, and afterwards the unique sculpture was added, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research. The level of precision and attention to detail in creating this almost 4,000 year old sculpture is extremely impressive. The neck of the jug served as a base for forming the upper portion of the figure, after which the arms, legs and a face were added to the sculpture.  One can see that the face of the figure seems to be resting on its hand as if in a state of reflection”. Itach added, “It is unclear if the figure was made by the potter who prepared the jug or by another craftsman”.

 Efrat Zilber, supervisor responsible for coordinating the Land of Israel and Archaeology matriculation stream in the Ministry of Education emphasized that “the archaeological excavations provide an opportunity for an intensive and direct experience that connects the pupils with our country’s past. An experiential learning experience involving research methods employed in archaeology takes place while revealing the artifacts. The pupils meet experts in a variety of fields who share their knowledge with them, enrich the pupils while also enriching their world”.

 In addition to the unique pottery vessel, other vessels and metal items were found such as daggers, arrowheads, an axe head, sheep bones and what are very likely the bones of a donkey. According to Itach, “It seems that these objects are funerary offerings that were buried in honor of an important member of the ancient community. It was customary in antiquity to believe that the objects that were interred alongside the individual continued with him into the next world. To the best of my knowledge such a rich funerary assemblage that also includes such a unique pottery vessel has never before been discovered in the country”.

 In addition, a variety of evidence regarding the kind of life that existed there 6,000 years ago was exposed – among other things, pits and shafts were revealed that contained thousands of fragments of pottery vessels, hundreds of flint and basalt implements, animal bones, and a churn which is a unique vessel that was widely used in the Chalcolithic period for making butter.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Native Americans raised classic holiday bird

Hundreds of years before the first Thanksgiving, Native Americans were raising and feasting on America's classic holiday meal.

Florida State University Associate Professor of Anthropology Tanya Peres and graduate student Kelly Ledford write in a paper published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports that Native Americans as early as 1200 - 1400 A.D. were managing and raising turkeys.

This is the first time scientists have suggested that turkeys were potentially domesticated by early Native Americans in the southeastern United States.

"In the Americas, we have just a few domesticated animals," Peres said. "Researchers haven't really talked about the possibility of Native Americans domesticating or raising turkeys."

Researchers knew that turkeys had been a part of Native American life long before the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

Their feathers were used on arrows, in headdresses and clothing. The meat was used for food. Their bones were used for tools including scratchers used in ritual ceremonies. There are even representations of turkeys in artifacts from the time. An intricately engraved marine shell pendant found at a site in central Tennessee shows two turkeys facing each other.

But this new research indicates turkeys were more than just a casual part of life for Native Americans of that era. Peres and Ledford came across a few curiosities as they examined skeletons of turkeys from archaeological sites in Tennessee that led them to believe that Native Americans were actively managing these fowls.

For one, the groupings researchers worked on had more male turkeys than a typical flock.

In a typical flock of turkeys, there are usually more females, Peres said. But in the flock they examined, they found more remains of males. That would only happen if it were designed that way, she said.

"It appears Native Americans were favoring males for their bones for tools," Peres said. "And they certainly would have favored males for their feathers. They tend to be much brighter and more colorful than the female species. Female feathers tend to be a dull grey or brown to blend in to their surroundings since they have to sit on the nest and protect the chicks."

The other immediately noticeable trait that stood out to Peres and Ledford was that these ancient American gobblers were big boned -- much larger than today's average wild turkey. That could be the result of them being purposefully cared for or fed diets of corn.

"The skeletons of the archaeological turkeys we examined were quite robust in comparison to the skeletons of our modern comparatives," Ledford said. "The domestication process typically results in an overall increase in the size of the animal so we knew this was a research avenue we needed to explore."

Peres and Ledford are working with colleagues at Washington State University to perform a DNA sequencing of these turkeys and also conduct experiments to see what the turkeys were eating. If they were being fed corn, a chemical signature should appear in the remains.

Ledford is also collecting data from additional sites across the southeastern United States to see if this pattern of managing turkeys was consistent across settlements or if it was an isolated practice.

"It might be that not everybody was practicing this, but some people were for sure," Peres said.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ancient inscribed stone tablet dates to 4th century AD; Earliest 10 Commandments Tablet

The world's earliest-known stone inscription of the 10 Commandments — one of the most important documents in history, and a "National Treasure" of Israel — sold for $850,000 Wednesday evening, Nov. 16 at a public auction of ancient Biblical archaeology artifacts by Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills, California. The two-foot-square slab of white marble, which weighs almost 115 pounds, is chiseled with 20 lines of letters in Samaritan script, derived jointly from Hebrew and Aramaic.

The tablet likely adorned the entrance of a synagogue destroyed by the Romans between A.D. 400 and 600, or by the Crusaders in the 11th century, Heritage Auctions Director of Ancient Coins & Antiquities David Michaels said. The auction opened with a $300,000 bid, but a war between two phone bidders pushed the auction price to $850,000.

The winning bidder does not wish to be identified at this time.

Although officially deemed a "National Treasure" of Israel, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) approved export of the piece the United States in 2005 on the condition that it be displayed in a public museum, a condition that still remains in effect," Michaels said.

"The sale of this tablet does not mean it will be hidden away from the public," Michaels said. "The new owner is under obligation to display the tablet for the benefit of the public."

After an introductory dedication and invocation, the tablet lists nine of the 10 commonly known Biblical Commandments from the Book of Exodus, omitting "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (King James translation), and adding one commonly employed by the Samaritan sect exhorting worshippers to "raise up a temple" on Mount Gerizim, the holy mountain of the Samaritans, located near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Based on the letter forms chiseled into the tablet, scholars suspect the stone was probably carved in the late Roman or Byzantine era, circa A.D. 300-500, to adorn the entrance or worship space of a synagogue in or around the modern city of Yavneh, in what now is western Israel. It is unclear when the synagogue was destroyed but scholars suspect it could have occurred when the Samaritan sect was heavily suppressed by the Romans in the mid-400s, by the Byzantines in the 500s, or by the Muslims or Crusaders up to the 12th century.

The tablet was the centerpiece of an offering of Biblical historic artifacts, all thoroughly researched and authenticated, and owned by the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn, New York. Additional highlights included

a circa 70-200 Common Era nine-spouted Hanukkah lamp, which sold for $17,500.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Archaeologists study earliest recorded human burial site

The highly polished stone adze.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of York

Archaeologists have shed new light on the belief systems of early Mesolithic hunter-gatherers after analysing cremated remains and artefacts given as grave offerings from the earliest recorded human burial site in Ireland.

The team says it shows a rare and intimate glimpse of the complex funerary rituals taking place on the banks of the River Shannon at Hermitage, County Limerick, over 9,000 years ago.

The team, led by Dr Aimée Little from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, analysed cremated remains dating from 7530-7320 BC -- the earliest recorded human burial and grave assemblage.

Unusually for such an early burial, the person's body had been cremated and then buried, rather than a more simple form of inhumation.

Polished adze

The site also featured evidence for a grave-marker; a post which would have marked the spot at which the cremated remains were buried long after the event itself.

A highly polished stone adze interred with the remains, thought to represent the earliest known completely polished adze or axe in Europe, was revealed to have been commissioned for burial at the site.

Microscopic analysis of the adze's surface demonstrated a short duration of use, indicating its purpose was for funerary rites.

Funerary rites

It was then intentionally blunted, probably as part of the funerary rites, which the researchers have suggested may have been a ritual act symbolising the death of the individual.

The findings mark Hermitage out as an exceptionally important site for the Early Prehistory of North West Europe.

Dr Little said: "Through technological and microscopic analysis of the polished adze it has been possible to reconstruct the biography of this remarkable grave offering.

"The special treatment of this adze gives us a rare and intimate glimpse of the complex funerary rituals that were taking place graveside on the banks of the River Shannon over 9,000 years ago."


Dr Ben Elliott added: "The adze is exceptional as we traditionally associate this polished axes and adzes like this with the arrival of agriculture in Europe, around 3000 years later.

"Although polished axes and adzes are known from pre-agricultural sites in Ireland and other parts of Europe, to find such a well-made, highly polished and securely dated example is unprecedented for this period of prehistory."

City dwellers in Middle Ages no worse off than village dwellers

City dwellers in the Middle Ages were probably no worse off than people living in villages. Both groups had very different health risks, is Rachel Schats' conclusion from her research on bone material. 

We often assume that cities in the Middle Ages with their poor hygiene and higher population density had a negative effect on the physical wellbeing of city dwellers. And at the same time a kind of idyllic purity is attributed to the lifestyle of country farming communities. New research by osteoarchaeologist Rachel Schats undermines these assumptions. 'My research shows that rural areas and cities didn't differ very much from one another as far as disease is concerned,' Schats commented.
Bone material
For her dissertation Schats examined the bones of city dwellers from Alkmaar (1448 -- 1572 AD) and rural inhabitants in the West-Frisian community of Blokhuizen (1000 -- 1200 AD) and the flooded village of Klaaskinderkerke (1286 -- 1570 AD) in Zeeland. From the bone material she was able to detect which diseases or shortcomings these people had, what their physical condition had been and what they ate.
From Schats' research it became clear that the risks of the city were very different from those of the countryside. She discovered, for example, that at least two of the 189 Alkmaar skeletons had damaged ribs and vertebrae, which could indicate tuberculosis. None of the 173 inhabitants of the country areas suffered from this particular disease. Schats explained, 'As only 10 per cent of TBC patients develop bone damage, you can assume that a lot more of the Alkmaar people suffered from TBC. Presumably the difference with the country was much greater.'
Stress markers
But if you look at the number of stress markers in the bones, you notice how little difference there is between city and country dewllers. Stress remarked, 'These stress markers indicate the degree of malnutrition or disease. Although it is not immediately clear what the diseases are, we do see that these stress markers are equally distributed among the city and country dwellers.'
Tooth decay
The Alkmaar people also had more tooth decay than the villagers in Blokhuizen and Klaaskinderkerke. Schats thinks this has to do with the greater availability of food on the Alkmaar markets. 'Thanks to national and international trade, people who lived in cities had access to more and more carbohydrate products such as fruit, sugar and honey. They may well also have drunk more beer because the city's water was so dirty. All that sugar was bad for their teeth.'
At the same time, urbanisation probably had a positive effect on the number of typical 'country ailments'. Schats found signs of arthrosis on the upper part of the skeletons of women from country areas, probably caused by the heavy farm work such as milking and churning that they did. The skeletons of city women had fewer signs of arthrosis, probably because they no longer did such heavy annual work.
Isotope research
Finally, Schas was able to deduce from isotope research that the people from Alkmaar ate a lot more marine fish than the villagers from West Friesland. 'The amount of fish available was increasing at the time, and salted herring was particularly popular. A lot of the fish was sold on markets and so was more accessible to the city dwellers.'

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Neanderthal inheritance helped humans adapt to life outside of Africa

As the ancestors of modern humans made their way out of Africa to other parts of the world many thousands of years ago, they met up and in some cases had children with other forms of humans, including the Neanderthals and Denisovans. Scientists know this because traces of those meetings remain in the human genome. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on November 10 find more evidence that those encounters have benefited humans over the years.

All told, the new study identifies 126 different places in the genome where genes inherited from those archaic humans remain at unusually high frequency in the genomes of modern humans around the world. We owe our long-lost hominid relatives for various traits, and especially those related to our immune systems and skin, the evidence shows.

"Our work shows that hybridization was not just some curious side note to human history, but had important consequences and contributed to our ancestors' ability to adapt to different environments as they dispersed throughout the world," says Joshua Akey of University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Akey says it's relatively straightforward today to identify sequences that were inherited from archaic ancestors. Studies show that non-African individuals inherited about 2% of their genomes from Neanderthals. People of Melanesian ancestry inherited another 2% to 4% of their genomes from Denisovan ancestors. But it hasn't been clear what influence those DNA sequences have had on our biology, traits, and evolutionary history.

In the new study, the researchers took advantage of recently constructed genome-scale maps of Neanderthal and Denisovan sequences identified in more than 1,500 geographically diverse people. Their sample included close to 500 individuals each from East Asia, Europe, and South Asia. They also analyzed the genomes of 27 individuals from Island Melanesia, an area including Indonesia, New Guinea, Fiji, and Vanuatu. The researchers were searching for archaic DNA sequences in those human genomes at frequencies much higher than would be expected if those genes weren't doing people any good.

While the vast majority of surviving Neanderthal and Denisovan sequences are found at relatively low frequencies (typically less than 5%), the new analyses turned up 126 places in our genomes where these archaic sequences exist at much higher frequencies, reaching up to about 65%. Seven of those regions were found in parts of the genome known to play a role in characteristics of our skin. Another 31 are involved in immunity.

"The ability to increase to such high population frequencies was most likely facilitated because these sequences were advantageous," Akey explains. "In addition, many of the high-frequency sequences span genes involved in the immune system, which is a frequent target of adaptive evolution."

Generally speaking, the genes humans got from Neanderthals or Denisovans are important for our interactions with the environment. The evidence suggests that hybridization with archaic humans as our ancient ancestors made their way out of Africa "was an efficient way for modern humans to quickly adapt to the new environments they were encountering."

The researchers say they'd now like to learn more about how these genes influenced humans' ability to survive and what implications they might have for disease. They are also interested in expanding their analysis to include geographically diverse populations in other parts of the world, including Africa.

Unpublished & Previously Unknown Fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls for Sale in London

Fragments of The Dead Sea Scrolls, considered the "most famous manuscript find of all time" and the "greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century," are currently for public sale for the first time since 1954 through an exhibit in London hosted by Les Enluminures and Shapero Rare Books.

"It seems almost inconceivable in the 21st century that unknown Dead Sea Scrolls could still appear on the market," said Sandra Hindman, owner of Les Enluminures. "Any appearance on the market of unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls is special news. Today they surely rank as one of the most important and revered literary and religious manuscripts in existence."

The present group of five fragments, currently on the market, of which two are fragment sets, are among the so-called "W" fragments. An American owner from the legal heirs of Khalil Iskander Shahin acquired them in 2002, and they are almost certainly from Cave IV. Scrolls from Cave IV were not kept in jars but housed on shelves in ancient-library fashion, identified by dangling tags. Recently completed high-resolution multi-spectral imaging of these fragments has revealed some Hebrew lettering but the texts are have not yet been identified. The images will be studied by the leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholars in Israel and the United States this year, and will be published as early as 2017.

These unpublished and previously unknown fragments will be on exhibit in "2000 Years of Jewish Culture" organized by Les Enluminures and Shapero Rare Books at 32 St. George St., London W1, through November 11. The asking price is $1 million.

Dating from 2,000 years ago, roughly 150 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., The Dead Sea Scrolls were found concealed in 11 caves in the Judaean wilderness around or beside the Dead Sea. Written primarily in Hebrew, the more than 10,000 manuscript fragments are also in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) and Greek. The scrolls include the oldest biblical texts ever found, comprising passages from every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther. The only biblical book that is complete is Isaiah, found in a scroll from Cave I, and it is 24 feet long.

Perhaps the most mystifying and intriguing is the Copper Scroll from Cave III, composed on thin sheets of copper metal and containing a sort of treasure map 64 spots where massive amounts of gold and silver treasure are buried in the area around the Dead Sea – still not found and the subject of several fictional thrillers. Along with biblical texts, the scrolls include documents about sectarian regulations, such as the Community Rule, and religious writings that do not appear in the Hebrew Bible. Just why, by whom, and for whom they were written and then buried still remains a subject of lively speculation among scholars.

The best contemporary description of a manuscript in use in Judaea in the period of the Dead Sea Scrolls is actually found in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4:16-20), which describes Jesus in the synagogue: "He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him; he unrolled the scroll ..." and read, "and he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down," and began to preach.

The caves where the scrolls were buried are numbered I-XI in the order of their discovery between 1947 and 1956. The initial finds from Cave I, along with jars they were housed in, were made by Bedouin shepherds, who brought them eventually to a Syrian Christian dealer in antiquities in Bethlehem, Khalil Iskander Shahin. It is probable that most of the recent discoveries of Dead Sea Scrolls, including the present fragments, are from Cave IV.

This cave is in the cliffs to the southwest of the site of Qumran, from which it is separated by a deep ravine. An old Bedouin is said to have remembered finding the cave as a young man, and his recollections led his younger compatriots to the site, apparently in August 1952. They let themselves down by a rope and entered the cave, where they unearthed the remains of masses of matted manuscript fragments, which they took, as their predecessors had done, to Kando in Bethlehem.

The last publicly prominent sale of Dead Sea Scrolls occurred on June 1, 1954, when four finds from Cave I, including the Isaiah Scroll, were offered for sale privately and advertised in the Wall Street Journal. They were bought immediately by telegram by the state of Israel for $250,000. These items are now in the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The most recent publicly recorded sale of Dead Sea Scrolls was in 2009, when Azusa Pacific University in California acquired five fragments for a price reported in the Los Angeles Times of nearly $2.5 million. Other fragments exist worldwide in public and private collections: the University of Chicago, the Museum of the Bible, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Martin Schøyen in Norway, to name the most significant collections.

Neanderthal genes are slowly being removed by natural selection

The Neanderthals disappeared about 30,000 years ago, but little pieces of them live on in the form of DNA sequences scattered through the modern human genome. A new study by geneticists at the University of California, Davis, shows why these traces of our closest relatives are slowly being removed by natural selection.

"On average, there has been weak but widespread selection against Neanderthal genes," said Graham Coop, professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology, and senior author on a paper describing the work published Nov. 8 in the journal PLOS Genetics. That selection seems to be a consequence of a small population of Neanderthals mixing with a much larger population of modern humans.

Neanderthals split from our African ancestors over half a million years ago, and lived in Europe and Central Asia until a few tens of thousands of years ago. Archaeological discoveries have shown that they had quite a sophisticated culture, Coop said. Thanks to DNA samples retrieved from a number of fossils, we have enough data on the Neanderthal genome to identify their genes among ours.

When modern humans left Africa about 50,000 to 80,000 years ago and spread through Europe and Asia, they interbred with Neanderthals. The first hybrid offspring would have been, on average, a 50-50 mix of modern human and Neanderthal genes, and could then have themselves bred with modern humans, Neanderthals or other hybrids.

So what happened to the Neanderthal DNA? Today, Neanderthal genes are a few percent of the genome of people of European ancestry, a little more common in people of East Asian descent, and almost absent in people of African ancestry.

Coop and postdoctoral researchers Ivan Juric and Simon Aeschbacher devised methods to measure the degree of natural selection acting on Neanderthal DNA in the human genome.

One hypothesis has been that Neanderthals quickly became genetically incompatible with modern humans, so their hybrid offspring were not "fit" in evolutionary terms - they either failed to thrive or were not fertile.

Weak but Widespread Selection Against Neanderthal Genes

The researchers found something different. Rather than showing strong selection against a few Neanderthal genes, they found weak, but widespread selection against many Neanderthal DNA sequences that is slowly removing it from our genome.

Coop said that's consistent with a small, isolated population of Neanderthals mixing with a much larger population of modern humans. Inbreeding in small populations means that genetic variants can remain common even if they're harmful to some degree. But when they mix into a larger population, natural selection starts to act against those variants and weed them out.

"The human population size has historically been much larger, and this is important since selection is more efficient at removing deleterious variants in large populations," Juric said. "Weakly deleterious variants that could persist in Neanderthals could not persist in humans. We think that this simple explanation can account for the pattern of Neanderthal ancestry that we see today along the genome of modern humans."

The findings are consistent with other recently published work. If Neanderthals had been more numerous when modern humans encountered them, we might have a different mix of Neanderthal and human genes, Juric said.

Significant Bronze Age and Akkadian Empire period city discovered in Northern Iraq

Archeologists from the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES) at the University of Tübingen have uncovered a large Bronze Age city not far from the town of Dohuk in northern Iraq. The excavation work has demonstrated that the settlement, which is now home to the small Kurdish village of Bassetki in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan, was established in about 3000 BC and was able to flourish for more than 1200 years. The archeologists also discovered settlement layers dating from the Akkadian Empire period (2340-2200 BC), which is regarded as the first world empire in human history.

Scientists headed by Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen and Dr. Hasan Qasim from the Directorate of Antiquities in Dohuk conducted the excavation work in Bassetki between August and October 2016. As a result, they were able to preempt the construction work on a highway on this land. The former significance of the settlement can be seen from the finds discovered during the excavation work. The city already had a wall running around the upper part of the town from approx. 2700 BC onwards in order to protect its residents from invaders. Large stone structures were erected there in about 1800 BC. The researchers also found fragments of Assyrian cuneiform tablets dating from about 1300 BC, which suggested the existence of a temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian weather god Adad on this site. There was a lower town about one kilometer long outside the city center. Using geomagnetic resistance measurements, the archeologists discovered indications of an extensive road network, various residential districts, grand houses and a kind of palatial building dating from the Bronze Age. The residents buried their dead at a cemetery outside the city. The settlement was connected to the neighboring regions of Mesopotamia and Anatolia via an overland roadway dating from about 1800 BC.

Bassetki was only known to the general public in the past because of the "Bassetki statue," which was discovered there by chance in 1975. This is a fragment of a bronze figure of the Akkadian god-king Naram-Sin (about 2250 BC). The discovery was stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2003, but was later rediscovered by US soldiers. Up until now, researchers were unable to explain the location of the find. The archeologists have now been able to substantiate their assumption that an important outpost of Akkadian culture may have been located there.