Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Ancient DNA reveals genetic replacement despite language continuity in the South Pacific

New genetic research reveals the complex demographic history of Vanuatu, explaining how Austronesian languages were retained throughout its history despite near-total replacement of early Austronesian-Lapita with Papuan ancestry

The study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution and led by a multidisciplinary research team at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) together with researchers in France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Vanuatu, reveals that migrations of people from the Bismarck Archipelago in Oceania to the previously settled islands of the Pacific began as early as 2,500 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.

The Remote Oceanian island nation of Vanuatu is the gateway to the rest of the Pacific and understanding its demographic history is critical to uncovering that of the wider region. The earliest inhabitants of Vanuatu, arriving about 3,000 years ago, were the Lapita peoples who spoke a form of Austronesian language and who had largely East Asian genetic ancestry.

But Vanuatu's contemporary population has largely Near Oceanian heritage, showing that over time the genetic ancestry of the early inhabitants was mostly replaced by that of Bismarck Archipelago migrants, who began arriving very soon after initial settlement. Yet the original Austronesian language persisted and over 120 descendant languages continue to be spoken today, making Vanuatu the per capita most linguistically diverse place on Earth. Vanuatu therefore presents an unprecedented case, where a population's genetic ancestry but not its languages were replaced.

Through analyses of new ancient and modern genome-wide data, the researchers show that rather than occurring in one wave, the genetic replacement was long and complex, likely the result of a sustained long-distance contact between Near and Remote Oceania. This provides demographic support for a model from historical linguistics, in which the initial Austronesian language of Vanuatu survived by being continually adopted by incoming Papuan migrants.

The Austronesian Expansion, which began around 5,500 years ago likely in modern-day Taiwan, was the most geographically extensive dispersal of farming peoples in prehistory, ultimately carrying people as far west as Madagascar and all the way east to Rapa Nui. These seafaring Neolithic people initially expanded out across Island Southeast Asia, carrying farming technology and a major branch of the Austronesian language family, eventually reaching Near Oceania where they encountered the indigenous Papuan peoples of New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago.

The initial settlement east beyond the Solomon Islands and out into Remote Oceania only began around 3,000 years ago, with Austronesian-speaking groups associated with the Lapita pottery culture rapidly expanding east out to Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and the islands of Western Polynesia.

A previous ancient DNA study of Lapita burial sites has shown that these earliest inhabitants had East Asian ancestry with negligible evidence of Papuan genetic admixture. But the present-day genetic make-up of Remote Oceania suggests at least some degree of Papuan ancestry, meaning there must have been subsequent Papuan migration and admixture into the Pacific from Near Oceania.

In order to understand this previously undescribed migration, a multidisciplinary team of researchers brought together different lines of evidence from the fields of genetics, archaeology and linguistics.

They generated genome-wide data from the bones and teeth of 19 ancient individuals from across Vanuatu, Tonga, French Polynesia and the Solomon Islands, a significant addition to the ancient DNA record in a region whose environmental conditions generally leads to poor ancient DNA preservation.

As co-lead author Kathrin Nägele of the MPI-SHH says,
"The identification of the petrous bone, which has recently been shown to provide fantastic aDNA preservation, has been a real game changer for such regions that were previously considered to be almost inaccessible." 

The ancient DNA was complemented by new contemporary genome-wide data from 27 present-day inhabitants of Vanuatu, collected as part of a long-term linguistic and anthropological fieldwork project run by co-authors Professor Russell Gray and Dr. Heidi Colleran of the MPI-SHH.

The ancient DNA provided direct evidence that Papuan people began arriving in Vanuatu soon after initial settlement by Austronesians.

"We found a genetically Papuan-related individual dating to around 2,500 years ago in Vanuatu, far earlier than had been previously estimated using only modern genetic data," explains co-lead author Dr. Cosimo Posth, also of the MPI-SHH.

The researchers were able to show that the ancestry of the initial Austronesian inhabitants of Vanuatu has been largely replaced by ancestry from Papuan peoples coming from the Bismarck Archipelago. But this genetic replacement was not straightforward, as Dr. Posth says,
"Our analyses show that this replacement did not occur in a one-time mass migration event but rather happened incrementally over time, suggesting an enduring long-distance network between groups in Near and Remote Oceania." 

The authors also directly described ancient individuals with sex-biased admixture, where Papuan males intermixed with Austronesian women, as long assumed based on analyses of the modern genetic make-up of the South Pacific.

Yet despite this genetic replacement, the people of present-day Vanuatu continue to speak languages descended from those spoken by the initial Austronesian inhabitants rather than any Papuan language of the incoming migrants. As Professor Gray, Director of the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution at the MPI-SHH, says,
"Population replacement with language continuity is extremely rare - if not unprecedented - in human history. The linguist Bob Blust has long argued for a model in which a separate Papuan expansion reaches Vanuatu soon after initial Austronesian settlement, with the initial, and likely undifferentiated, Austronesian language surviving as a lingua franca for diverse Papuan migrant groups." 

Dr. Adam Powell, senior author of the study and also of the MPI-SHH, continues,
"The demographic history suggested by our ancient DNA analyses provides really strong support for this historical linguistic model, with the early arrival and complex, incremental process of genetic replacement by people from the Bismarck Archipelago. This provides a compelling explanation for the continuity of Austronesian languages despite the almost complete replacement of the initial genetic ancestry of Vanuatu."

The study in particular highlights the importance of interdisciplinary work and the value that multiple lines of evidence can have in deepening our understanding of human history. As Professor Johannes Krause, a senior author and Director of the Department of Archaeogenetics at the MPI-SHH, explains, "
This multidisciplinary work has begun to uncover the complex, localized demographic processes that drove the initial colonization of the wider South Pacific and formed the enduring cultural and linguistic spheres that continue to shape the Pacific today." 

Ongoing engagement with local communities in Vanuatu, as well as with the Vanuatu Cultural Center, has been critical to this success. As Dr. Colleran points out,
"One strength of this study is the degree to which we are collaborating with communities in Vanuatu who have a real stake in these results and who generously volunteered their data to help answer these questions. We will be back in the field very soon to share the results with those communities and to hear their thoughts on the whole process." 

The progress of this continuing fieldwork can be followed on the Nature Ecology & Evolution Community website.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Domestic goat dating back to the Neolithic Corded Ware period identified in Finland

This is the first concrete evidence found in Finland of a goat dated back to the Neolithic Corded Ware period (in Finland ca. 2800-2300 BCE). The animal from more than four thousand years ago was identified by its fossilised hair, found in an archaeological soil sample.

The research finding tells about the mortuary practices of the Corded Ware culture. The soil sample under investigation originated in a grave structure discovered in the 1930s in Kauhava, western Finland. The grave and its perimeter were encircled by a layer of dark soil resembling the dimensions of an animal skin. Since the hairs were found in the sample collected from the feature in question, it can be assumed that they are connected with a goat skin placed in the grave.

The identification is based on images taken with a scanning electron microscope. The fibres included in these images were identified on the basis of their structure, typical to goat hair.

"Our study proves that completely new knowledge of our past can be gained by using microscopes to study organic material in advanced states of degradation. Now that we know to look for them, hairs have been found in other soil samples as well," explains Tuija Kirkinen.

In the light of these new findings, it is reasonable to assume that domestic animals and a herder identity have constituted a significant part of the belief system of the Corded Ware culture. This interpretation is also supported by objects made of domestic animal bones and pottery that might have been used for storing and drinking milk found in Corded Ware graves.

"Even though Corded Ware graves found elsewhere in Europe are generally better preserved, no equivalent evidence of skins placed in the grave have been found. As our findings show, the placement of the skin of an important domestic animal in the grave produces entirely new notions on the burial rituals and belief system of the Corded Ware culture," elaborates Marja Ahola.

Oldest animal hair found in Finland
From the perspective of Finnish prehistory, the finding supports the evidence of animal husbandry practised during the Corded Ware period. In the field of Finnish archaeology, it has long been assumed that people kept domestic animals also during the Corded Ware period. This conclusion is based on the fact that during the period, people often lived in meadow environments suited to animal husbandry. Milk residues have also been found in Corded Ware pottery.

It has been difficult to prove the practice of animal husbandry, since in the acidic Finnish soil, unburnt bone is preserved only for about a thousand years. Therefore, Finland has little osseous material preserved from the Stone Age. The oldest domestic animal bones known here, for example, date back only to the later part of Stone Age in ca. 2200-1950 BCE.

"The hairs found in the Corded Ware grave in Kauhava are the oldest animal hairs found in Finland and the first evidence of goats. Our finding does indeed prove that goats were known already at that early period as far up north as Finland," says Krista Vajanto.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Neanderthals were artistic like modern humans

Scientists have found the first major evidence that Neanderthals, rather than modern humans, created the world's oldest known cave paintings - suggesting they may have had an artistic sense similar to our own.

A new study led by the University of Southampton and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology shows that paintings in three caves in Spain were created more than 64,000 years ago - 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe.

This means that the Palaeolithic (Ice Age) cave art - including pictures of animals, dots and geometric signs - must have been made by Neanderthals, a 'sister' species to Homo sapiens, and Europe's sole human inhabitants at the time.

It also indicates that they thought symbolically, like modern humans.

Published today in the journal Science, the study reveals how an international team of scientists used a state-of-the-art technique called uranium-thorium dating to fix the age of the paintings as more than 64,000 years.

Until now, cave art has been attributed entirely to modern humans, as claims to a possible Neanderthal origin have been hampered by imprecise dating techniques. However, uranium-thorium dating provides much more reliable results than methods such as radiocarbon dating, which can give false age estimates.

The uranium-thorium method involves dating tiny carbonate deposits that have built up on top of the cave paintings. These contain traces of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, which indicate when the deposits formed - and therefore give a minimum age for whatever lies beneath.

Joint lead author Dr Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, said: "This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed.

"Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world, and were created at least 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa - therefore they must have been painted by Neanderthals."

A team of researchers from the UK, Germany, Spain and France analysed more than 60 carbonate samples from three cave sites in Spain - La Pasiega (north-eastern Spain), Maltravieso (western Spain) and Ardales (south-western Spain).

All three caves contain red (ochre) or black paintings of groups of animals, dots and geometric signs, as well as hand stencils, hand prints and engravings.

According to the researchers, creating the art must have involved such sophisticated behaviour as the choosing of a location, planning of light source and mixing of pigments.

Alistair Pike, Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton and co-director of the study, said: "Soon after the discovery of the first of their fossils in the 19th century, Neanderthals were portrayed as brutish and uncultured, incapable of art and symbolic behaviour, and some of these views persist today.

"The issue of just how human-like Neanderthals behaved is a hotly debated issue. Our findings will make a significant contribution to that debate."

Joint lead author Dirk Hoffmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, added that symbolic material culture - a collection of cultural and intellectual achievements handed down from generation to generation - has, until now, only been attributed to our species.

"The emergence of symbolic material culture represents a fundamental threshold in the evolution of humankind. It is one of the main pillars of what makes us human," he said.

"Artefacts whose functional value lies not so much in their practical but rather in their symbolic use are proxies for fundamental aspects of human cognition as we know it."

Early symbolic artefacts, dating back 70,000 years, have been found in Africa but are associated with modern humans.

Other artefacts including cave art, sculpted figures, decorated bone tools and jewellery have been found in Europe, dating back 40,000 years. But researchers have concluded that these artefacts must have been created by modern humans who were spreading across Europe after their arrival from Africa.

There is evidence that Neanderthals in Europe used body ornamentation around 40,000 to 45,000 years ago, but many researchers have suggested this was inspired by modern humans who at the time had just arrived in Europe.

Study co-author Paul Pettitt, of Durham University, commented: "Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places. The art is not a one-off accident.

"We have examples in three caves 700km apart, and evidence that it was a long-lived tradition. It is quite possible that similar cave art in other caves in Western Europe is of Neanderthal origin as well."


Panel 3 in Maltravieso Cave showing 3 hand stencils (centre right, centre top and top left). One has been dated to at least 66,000 years ago and must have been made by a Neanderthal (colour enhanced).


H. Collado

Archaeology: Pots, people and knowledge transfer

In the Late Neolithic, a new style of pottery appears among the grave goods buried with the dead in many parts of Europe. A new genetic study shows that, with one exception, its dissemination was not accompanied by large-scale migration.

At the end of the Neolithic, on the threshold to the Early Bronze Age, around 2600 BCE, a new set of religious beliefs began to spread across Europe. This is indicated in the archaeological record above else by the appearance of a novel form of pottery among the grave goods buried with the dead. These highly characteristic, decorated vessels are known as bell beakers, and their dissemination from Spain as far as Hungary, and across Northwestern Europe into Britain is known as the Bell Beaker phenomenon.

A team made up of geneticists and archaeologists has now explored whether the diffusion of these pots was driven by the influx of new migrants. Their findings appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature. The new study, for the first time, combines archaeological data relating to the distribution and ages of the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Europe with genetic analysis of human DNA sequences obtained from skeletal remains dated to the same period. This approach has enabled the team to compare the spread of the bell beakers (pots) with that of the migrants (people) who brought the new ideology. The results indicate that the diffusion of the pottery in continental Europe was not accompanied by large-scale migration.

"The study demonstrates that the spread of cultural elements need not involve migrational movements. In this case, it was the ideas that were propagated," says Professor Philipp Stockhammer of the Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich, one of the leading archaeologists among the authors. The results refute the long accepted theory that the spread of the new religion through Western and Central Europe was associated with significant incursions of migrants. Britain, however, represents a striking exception to this. Here, the appearance of the Bell Beaker phenomenon coincides with genetic evidence for the arrival of large numbers of migrants from continental Europe.

In the course of their investigation, the authors obtained DNA sequence data from 400 human skeletons, making it the largest study of ancient DNA carried out so far. This material had been excavated from 136 different sites, most of them in Britain, Spain and Germany. The new DNA samples from Germany originated from excavations carried out in the Valley of the River Lech. In a recent paper based on material from this area, Philipp Stockhammer reported evidence that reveals the surprising mobility of women in the Bronze Age. "We will now have to compare these three regions in order to determine the degree of spatial variability in mobility across the transition from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age," he says. The ability to recover and analyze ancient DNA from human burials on such a large scale was made possible by the advent of new techniques. These advances will usher in "a new era in palaeogenetics," he adds.

Indeed, Stockhammer himself is among the authors of a second article in the same issue of Nature. This paper looks at the pattern of migration of farmers and herders from Anatolia into Southeastern Europe 8500 years ago. That study also uses ancient DNA to reveal how the resident hunter-gatherer population reacted to the arrival of the newcomers. In some areas the two groups lived together and in other regions, they avoided contact and lived apart for hundreds of years. In the Danube Valley, the evidence suggests that some of the new farming communities subsequently abandoned agriculture and adopted the hunter-gatherer lifestyle favored by the locals.

New Interpretation for Aztec Sun Stone: It Is a Named Portrait

Longstanding ideas about the face of one of the most famous works of Aztec sculpture are being challenged by a new theory from a University of Texas at Austin researcher.

 ztec Sun Stone
Art history professor David Stuart argues that the image on the Aztec Sun Stone is more than a calendar or a simple representation of the sun god, but rather a named portrait of the ruler Montezuma II as a “sun king,” dedicated a few years before the arrival of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.
Scholars have debated about the identity of the central face on the stone for more than 100 years, but this new line of inquiry from Stuart shows there may be more to the story.

“This new theory historicizes the imagery and the monument, going beyond seeing it as just a religious or cosmological sculpture,” Stuart said. “Previous scholars had identified the name glyph of Montezuma on the stone, but the next step was identifying the name as a label and not just a note about who made it.”

During a recent trip to Mexico City, Stuart guided a UT delegation through the National Museum of Anthropology and its iconic display of the Aztec Sun Stone. “I remember noticing a new detail in the hieroglyphs on the stone that gave me pause,” he said. “I continued with the tour, but I made a mental note to return to the photos and drawings. That moment led me toward a new line of inquiry.”

The famous stone, also known as the Aztec Calendar Stone, was unearthed in Mexico City in 1790. It is almost 12 feet in diameter and covered in hieroglyphs, with a solar deity at its center. 

Stuart believes that the two glyphs that appear above the central face refer to Montezuma II and the Méxica patron god Huitzilopochtli. Based on what scholars know about text-image relationships in Mesoamerican art, Stuart hypothesizes that their placement has a direct bearing on the identity of the face itself. 

In Méxica art, name glyphs seldom function as standalone entities and are instead almost always found in conjunction with portraits and images as a means of image identification. Stuart argues that they both label the central face of a deified king — Montezuma II — embodying or assuming the supernatural identity of Huitzilopochtli.

“The face on the Aztec Sun Stone is not either the face of a sun god or a portrait of Montezuma, but both,” Stuart said. “Montezuma looks out from the center of the stone as a personalized representation of time and space. It’s a metaphysical depiction of royal power.”

He also speculates that the stone might have been originally displayed in front of the king's palace in ancient Tenochtitlan, in front of what is now the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. In his tentative hypothesis, Stuart argues that two other signs on the stone, which frame the face and create the circular design of the stone, refer to “sun” and “market” and that they are references to a substantial market and the palace of Montezuma II that have been documented near the stone’s found location. 

Historical texts published by the 16th-century Dominican friar Diego Durán refer to an “image of the sun” in the same area, indicating that it may have been on display in or near what is now the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City for decades after the 1521 conquest of Tenochtitlan by the Spaniards.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Copper Age Iberians 'exported' their culture -- but not their genes -- all over Europe

The largest ever genomic study shows that the first Beaker expansion was one of cultural diffusion
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

Prehistoric Iberians 'exported' their culture throughout Europe, reaching Great Britain, Sicily, Poland and all over central Europe in general. However, they did not export their genes. The Beaker culture, which probably originated in Iberia, left remains in those parts of the continent. However, that diffusion was not due to large migrations of populations that took this culture with them.

These are the conclusions of an international study in which the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) was involved. Its findings, published in the journal Nature, indicate no evidence of any genetic outflow from Iberia to those areas has been discovered. "Therefore, the diffusion of the Beaker culture from Iberia is the first example of a culture being transmitted as an idea, basically due to a question of social prestige (since it was associated with the virtues of being virile and of being warriors), which is why it is adopted by other populations", indicates researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox, from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, a mixed research centre run by CSIC and the Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona, Spain.

Between 4,700 and 4,400 years ago, a new type of bell-shaped beaker pottery was introduced throughout western and central Europe. For more than a century, archaeologists have been trying to determine whether the spread of this beaker pottery - and the (Beaker) culture associated with it - represented a large-scale migration or whether it was due simply to the exchange of new ideas.

Now, this new study, which includes DNA data from 400 prehistoric skeletons collected from sites across Europe, resolves the debate of whether the spread was due to migrations or ideas, indicating that both arguments are correct. The findings show that the culture which produced these bell-shaped beakers extended from Iberia to central Europe without a significant movement of populations, although the Beaker culture would spread to other places through migrations at a later date.

The study, whose first author is the Spanish researcher Íñigo Olalde, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, shows that once the (Bell) Beaker culture reaches the centre of Europe (around Germany and its surrounding area), it expands backwards to other places, notably to the British Isles. Yet, in this case, it does represent a migration, replacing around 90% of the population with it.

"That is to say, the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge (and who had a greater genetic similarity with Neolithic Iberians than with those from Central Europe) almost disappear and are replaced by the populations from the Beaker culture from the Netherlands and Germany. This replacement is almost absolute in terms of the Y chromosome, which is transmitted by the paternal line, indicating an extreme reproductive bias, and therefore a previously unheard of social dominance. The backward flow also reaches other places such as Italy (at least in the north) and Iberia. I believe it is possible that this is also associated with the expansion of the Celtic or Proto-Celtic languages," Mr. Lalueza-Fox points out.

Coordinated by researcher David Reich from Harvard University, the study was developed by an international team of 144 archaeologists and geneticists from institutions in Europe and the United States.

Ancient DNA tells tales of humans' migrant history

IMAGE: DNA from people from the Bell Beaker culture (illustration of one man shown) reveal that they descended from nomadic herders who migrated from the steppes of Central Asia. view more 
Credit: Manuel Rojo-Guerra/ Luis Pascual-Repiso
Scientists once could reconstruct humanity's distant past only from the mute testimony of ancient settlements, bones, and artifacts.

No longer. Now there's a powerful new approach for illuminating the world before the dawn of written history - reading the actual genetic code of our ancient ancestors. Two papers published in the journal Nature on February 21, 2018, more than double the number of ancient humans whose DNA has been analyzed and published to 1,336 individuals - up from just 10 in 2014.

The new flood of genetic information represents a "coming of age" for the nascent field of ancient DNA, says lead author David Reich, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Harvard Medical School - and it upends cherished archeological orthodoxy. "When we look at the data, we see surprises again and again and again," says Reich.

Together with his lab's previous work and that of other pioneers of ancient DNA, the Big Picture message is that our prehistoric ancestors were not nearly as homebound as once thought. "There was a view that migration is a very rare process in human evolution," Reich explains. Not so, says the ancient DNA. Actually, Reich says, "the orthodoxy - the assumption that present-day people are directly descended from the people who always lived in that same area - is wrong almost everywhere."

Instead, "the view that's emerging - for which David is an eloquent advocate - is that human populations are moving and mixing all the time," says John Novembre, a computational biologist at the University of Chicago.

Stonehenge's Builders Largely Vanish 
In one of the new papers, Reich and a cast of dozens of collaborators chart the spread of an ancient culture known by its stylized bell-shaped pots, the so-called Bell Beaker phenomenon. This culture first spread between Iberia and central Europe beginning about 4,700 years ago. By analyzing DNA from several hundred samples of human bones, Reich's team shows that only the ideas - not the people who originated them - made the move initially. That's because the genes of the Iberian population remain distinct from those of the central Europeans who adopted the characteristic pots and other artifacts.

But the story changes when the Bell Beaker culture expanded to Britain after 4,500 years ago. Then, it was brought by migrants who almost completely supplanted the island's existing inhabitants - the mysterious people who had built Stonehenge - within a few hundred years. "There was a sudden change in the population of Britain," says Reich. "It was an almost complete replacement."

For archeologists, these and other findings from the study of ancient DNA are "absolutely sort of mind-blowing," says archaeologist Barry Cunliffe, a professor emeritus at the University of Oxford. "They are going to upset people, but that is part of the excitement of it."

Vast Migration from the Steppe
Consider the unexpected movement of people who originally lived on the steppes of Central Asia, north of the Black and Caspian seas. About 5,300 years ago, the local hunter-gatherer cultures were replaced in many places by nomadic herders, dubbed the Yamnaya, who were able to expand rapidly by exploiting horses and the new invention of the cart, and who left behind big, rich burial sites.

Archeologists have long known that some of the technologies used by the Yamnaya later spread to Europe. But the startling revelation from the ancient DNA was that the people moved, too - all the way to the Atlantic coast of Europe in the west to Mongolia in the east and India in the south. This vast migration helps explain the spread of Indo-European languages. And it significantly replaced the local hunter-gatherer genes across Europe with the indelible stamp of steppe DNA, as happened in Britain with the migration of the Bell Beaker people to the island.

"This whole phenomenon of the steppe expansion is an amazing example of what ancient DNA can show," says Reich. And, adds Cunliffe, "no one, not even archeologists in their wildest dreams, had expected such a high steppe genetic content in the populations of northern Europe in the third millennium B.C."

This ancient DNA finding also explains the "strange result" of a genetic connection that had been hinted at in the genomes of modern-day Europeans and Native Americans, adds Chicago's Novembre. The link is evidence from people who lived in Siberia 24,000 years ago, whose telltale DNA is found both in Native Americans, and in the Yamnaya steppe populations and their European descendants.

New Insights from Southeastern Europe
Reich's second new Nature paper, on the genomic history of southeastern Europe, reveals an additional migration as farming spread across Europe, based on data from 255 individuals who lived between 14,000 and 2,500 years ago. It also adds a fascinating new nugget - the first compelling evidence that the genetic mixing of populations in Europe was biased toward one sex.

Hunter-gatherer genes remaining in northern Europeans after the influx of migrating farmers came more from males than females, Reich's team found. "Archaeological evidence shows that when farmers first spread into northern Europe, they stopped at a latitude where their crops didn't grow well," he says. "As a result, there were persistent boundaries between the farmers and the hunter-gatherers for a couple of thousand years." This gave the hunter-gatherers and farmers a long time to interact. According to Reich, one speculative scenario is that during this long, drawn-out interaction, there was a social or power dynamic in which farmer women tended to be integrated into hunter-gatherer communities.

So far that's only a guess, but the fact that ancient DNA provides clues about the different social roles and fates of men and women in ancient society "is another way, I think, that these data are so extraordinary," says Reich.

Advanced Machines 
These scientific leaps forward have been fueled by three key developments. One is the dramatic cost reduction (and speed increase) in gene sequencing made possible by advanced machines from Illumina and other companies.

The second is a discovery spearheaded by Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Dublin. His group showed that the petrous bone, containing the tiny inner ear, harbors 100 times more DNA than other ancient human remains, offering a huge increase in the amount of genetic material available for analysis. The third is a method implemented by Reich for reading the genetic codes of 1.2 million carefully chosen variable parts of DNA (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms) rather than having to sequence entire genomes. That speeds the analysis and reduces its cost even further.

The new field made a splash when Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, working with Reich and many other colleagues, used ancient DNA to prove that Neanderthals and humans interbred. Since then, the number of ancient humans whose DNA Reich has analyzed has risen exponentially. His lab has generated about three-quarters of the world's published data and, included unpublished data, has now reached 3,700 genomes.

"Every time we jump an order of magnitude in the number of individuals, we can answer questions that we couldn't even have asked before," says Reich.

Now, with hundreds of thousands of ancient skeletons (and their petrous bones) still to be analyzed, the field of ancient DNA is poised to both pin down current questions and tackle new ones. For example, Reich's team is working with Cunliffe and others to study more than 1,000 samples from Britain to more accurately measure the replacement of the island's existing gene pool by the steppe-related DNA from the Bell Beaker people.

"The evidence we have for a 90 percent replacement is very, very suggestive, but we need to test it a bit more to see how much of the pre-Beaker population really survived," explains Cunliffe.

Beyond that, ancient DNA offers the promise of studying not only the movements of our distant ancestors, but also the evolution of traits and susceptibilities to diseases. "This is a new scientific instrument that, like the microscope when it was invented in the seventeenth century, makes it possible to study aspects of biology that simply were not possible to examine before," explains Reich.

In one example, scientists at the University of Copenhagen found DNA from plague in the steppe populations. If the groups that migrated to Britain after 4,500 years ago brought the disease with them, that could help explain why the existing population shrank so quickly.

With the possibility of many such discoveries still ahead, "it is a very exciting time," says Cunliffe. "Ancient DNA is going to revitalize archeology in a way that few of us could have guessed even ten years ago."

Ancient-DNA researchers surpass the 1,000-genome milestone

In the last eight years, the field of ancient DNA research has expanded from just one ancient human genome to more than 1,300. The latest 625 of those genomes debut Feb. 21 in two papers published simultaneously in Nature, including the largest study of ancient DNA to date.

The studies were conducted by international teams each containing more than 100 archaeologists and geneticists and co-led by Harvard Medical School professor David Reich. The results focus on European prehistory in the Stone and Copper Ages.

Findings at a glance:

The Bell Beaker culture comprised at least two genetically distinct populations and initially represented a spread of ideas more than of people, unlike other notable prehistoric archaeological cultures in Europe.

Ninety percent of the population of what is now Britain was completely replaced by an influx of Beaker practitioners around 4,400 years ago, just after the major megaliths at Stonehenge were erected.

The genetic shift introduced variants for paler skin and lighter-colored eyes; genes for digesting lactose became common sometime later.

Multiple pulses of farmers moved from Asia into Europe during the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture; previously, data was consistent with only a single group giving rise to all European farmers.

Initially, the mixture of incoming Asian farmers and local European hunter-gatherers tended to involve hunter-gatherer women being integrated into farmer communities. Later, the trend reversed and new hunter-gatherer ancestry came mostly from men.

The large sample sizes magnify the power of studies that delve into:
  • Genetic variation within a specific region and how it changes over time
  • The evolution of genes that affect complex traits
  • The distribution of families within and across grave sites
  • Matrilocality and patrilocality--areas where women stayed in the same place and men moved, and vice versa

Laser technology takes Maya archeologists where they've never gone before University


IMAGE: UA archaeologist Takeshi Inomata during an excavation at Ceibal. view more 
Credit: Courtesy of Takeshi Inomata/University of Arizona
With the help of airborne laser mapping technology, a team of archaeologists, led by University of Arizona professor Takeshi Inomata, is exploring on a larger scale than ever before the history and spread of settlement at the ancient Maya site of Ceibal in Guatemala.

In a new paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, Inomata and his colleagues explain how they commissioned the use of LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, technology to map a significantly larger area of Ceibal than ever before recorded.

LiDAR provides highly accurate, detailed 3-D maps of ground surface topography. Over the course of just a few days at Ceibal, a small airplane, equipped with lasers powerful enough to peer through the dense jungle canopy, soared above the site, mapping -- with a less than 10-centimeter margin of error -- the shape, size and location of ancient Maya pyramids, platforms, ceremonial centers, roads, water reservoirs and other structures previously undocumented by archaeologists.

The resulting map covers 470 square kilometers that would have been extremely challenging for archaeologists to reach on foot, and includes the locations of more than 15,000 ancient Maya architectural remains. Previously, archaeologists had information on only about 8 square kilometers and fewer than 1,000 structures in the area.

"This kind of understanding was really unthinkable some years ago, and now suddenly we can have all these data," Inomata said. "The scale is completely different."

Inomata and his colleagues used the LiDAR data to reconstruct a timeline of growth and change at Ceibal, building upon what they already knew from previous excavations about when different styles of structures appeared between about 1,000 B.C. and A.D. 950.

They outline their methods in detail in the PLOS ONE paper.

"What we tried to do here was to set up a systematic method of analyzing this LiDAR data over a wide area, and then translate it into an interpretation of temporal sequences and social change," said Inomata, a professor and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in Environment and Social Justice in the UA School of Anthropology.

Combining LiDAR and excavation data then allowed the archaeologists to reconstruct settlement patterns over a long period of time.

"Looking at the LiDAR image, you can see the specific types of architecture -- pyramids, long structures -- and we know from our excavations what time period they're from. So just looking at the shape of the structures, we can see this network of communities and ceremonial centers from specific periods," Inomata said.

Lasers Let Humans Explore Challenging Terrain

Mapping an archaeological site in a densely vegetated area such as the Guatemalan jungle is a daunting task -- one traditionally done on foot. Because of the challenging terrain, only about 1.9 square kilometers of Ceibal had been completely mapped previously -- by Harvard archaeologists in the 1960s -- while about 6 more kilometers were surveyed with less detail.

It was in that small area that Inomata and his colleagues have been conducting archaeological excavations for the last 13 years.

Since joining the growing number of researchers who have used the LiDAR surveying method to help with interpretation of archaeological sites, Inomata and his team have gained access to data that would have been nearly impossible to obtain through on-foot surveys. The LiDAR survey, which was conducted by the University of Houston's National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, even found a few things that the original on-the-ground mapping done in the 1960s missed.

"The maps that Harvard made were incredibly accurate, considering they were all ground survey, but with LiDAR we found a lot more buildings than were on the map previously, and their locations are very accurate," said paper co-author Melissa Burham, a UA graduate student in anthropology.

As a growing number of researchers turn to the LiDAR surveying method to aid in the interpretation of archaeological sites, Inomata and his team hope their colleagues in the field may follow a similar process to what they used at Ceibal, which they plan to apply again in their regional survey in the state of Tabasco in Mexico, where they will begin work in February.

"In archaeology, excavation is always important, but you can't excavate everything, so you look for patterns on a smaller scale that you can extrapolate over a larger region," said Burham, who co-authored the paper along with Inomata, UA anthropology professor Daniela Triadan and researchers from Guatemala and Japan. "That's really what this paper aims to do. This can help other people understand growth at other Maya centers and help with dating methods."

New research sheds light on prehistoric human migration in Europe


This field excavation photo shows a double burial in Kargadur, located in Istria County, Croatia. The skeletal remains are among 225 skeletal remains sampled in a study of two major migrations across southeastern Europe during prehistoric times. Results of the study are in a paper, titled 'The Genomic History of Southeastern Europe,' that was published in the Feb. 21 issue of Nature.
Credit: Darko Komšo
Two University of Wyoming researchers contributed to a new study in which DNA of ancient skeletal remains of people from southeastern Europe were used to determine migration patterns across Europe during prehistoric times.

Ivor Jankovic, an associate adjunct professor, and Ivor Karavanic, an adjunct professor, both in UW's Department of Anthropology, contributed to the new study that is highlighted in a paper, titled "The Genomic History of Southeastern Europe," published today (Feb. 21) in Nature, an international weekly journal of science.

"The study confirmed that the region of southeastern Europe was a major nexus and a genetic contact zone between the East and West during prehistoric times," says Jankovic, whose full-time job is assistant director of the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, Croatia. "Two major migrations passing through southeastern Europe were confirmed by the means of archaeo-genetic studies."

The first migration was the early Neolithic Period -- 6,000 Before Common Era (BCE) -- when the first farmers, from Anatolia -- Asia Minor -- spread through Europe. The second migration occurred during the early Bronze Age (3,000-2,500 BCE) when the so-called "steppe population," from the Eurasian steppe, replaced much of northern Europe's previous population.

The first farmers of northern and western Europe passed through southeastern Europe with limited hunter-gatherer genetic admixture, which occurs when two or more previously isolated populations begin interbreeding. However, some groups that remained mixed extensively -- without the male-biased, hunter-gatherer admixture that prevailed later in the North and West, according to the paper.

Southeastern Europe continued to be a nexus between East and West, with intermittent genetic contact with the Steppe people up to 2,000 years before the migrations that replaced much of northern Europe's population.

"In some places, hunter-gatherers and incoming farmers seem to have mixed very quickly," says Iain Mathieson, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was first author of the paper. "But, mostly, the two groups remained isolated, at least for the first few hundred years. These hunter-gatherers had been living there for thousands of years, and it must have been quite a shock to have these new people show up -- with a completely different lifestyle and appearance."

Karavanic, a professor in the University of Zagreb's Department of Archaeology, was the leader of archaeological excavations of the Paleolithic/Neolithic site of Zemunica cave, from which several human remains were unearthed and used in the study. The discoveries gave needed information on origin and background research.

Jankovic, along with Mario Novak, a research associate at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, were involved in the bio-archaeological study of human remains from several of the study samples.

The involvement of Jankovic and Karavanic in this study started through Novak, who visited UW last year to present a talk. Jankovic and James Ahern, former head of UW's Department of Anthropology and now a UW associate provost, collaborated with Novak on several previous publications.

Before the arrival of farming in southeastern Europe, the region saw interactions between diverged groups of hunter-gatherers. This interaction continued after farming arrived. After the first appearance of agriculture in the mid-seventh millennium B.C., farming spread westward via a Mediterranean route and northwestward via a Danubian route. Farming was established in both Iberia (Portugal and Spain) and central Europe by 5,600 B.C.

Ancient DNA studies have shown that the spread of farming across Europe was accompanied by a massive movement of people closely related to the farmers of northwestern Anatolia. But, nearly all of the ancient DNA from Europe's first farmers is from central and Western Europe, with only three farmers reported from southeastern Europe, the paper says.

To understand the dynamics of this migration process, Jankovic, Karovanic, Novak and many other researchers contributed to the analysis of genome-wide ancient DNA data from 225 skeletal remains of individuals who lived in southeastern Europe and surrounding regions between 12,000 and 500 B.C. These areas included the Balkan Peninsula, the Carpathian Basin, the North Pontiac Steppe and surrounding regions.

"These results reveal the relationship between migrations, admixture and subsistence in this key region and show that, even within early European farmers, individuals differed in their ancestry, reflecting a dynamic mosaic of hunter-farmer interbreeding," says Ron Pinhasi, co-director of the study and an anthropologist at the University of Vienna in Austria.

While the study has clarified the genomic history of southeastern Europe from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age, the processes that connected these populations to those living today remain largely unknown, the paper states. An important direction for future research will be to sample populations from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman and medieval periods, and compare them to present-day populations to understand how these population transitions occurred, according to the paper.

The study included participation of 117 archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists from 82 universities, academies, institutes and museums across the U.S. and Europe

Monday, February 19, 2018

Traces of indigenous 'Taíno' in present-day Caribbean populations

A thousand-year-old tooth has provided genetic evidence that the so-called "Taíno", the first indigenous Americans to feel the full impact of European colonisation after Columbus arrived in the New World, still have living descendants in the Caribbean today.

Researchers were able to use the tooth of a woman found in a cave on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas to sequence the first complete ancient human genome from the Caribbean. The woman lived at some point between the 8th and 10th centuries, at least 500 years before Columbus made landfall in the Bahamas.

The results provide unprecedented insights into the genetic makeup of the Taíno - a label commonly used to describe the indigenous people of that region. This includes the first clear evidence that there has been some degree of continuity between the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and contemporary communities living in the region today.

Such a link had previously been suggested by other studies based on modern DNA. None of these, however, was able to draw on an ancient genome. The new research finally provides concrete proof that indigenous ancestry in the region has survived to the present day.

Comparing the ancient Bahamian genome to those of contemporary Puerto Ricans, the researchers found that they were more closely related to the ancient Taíno than any other indigenous group in the Americas. However, they argue that this characteristic is unlikely to be exclusive to Puerto Ricans alone and are convinced that future studies will reveal similar genetic legacies in other Caribbean communities.

The findings are likely to be especially significant for people in the Caribbean and elsewhere who have long claimed indigenous Taíno heritage, despite some historical narratives that inaccurately brand them "extinct". Such misrepresentations have been heavily criticised by historians and archaeologists, as well as by descendant communities themselves, but until now they lacked clear genetic evidence to support their case.

The study was carried out by an international team of researchers led by Dr Hannes Schroeder and Professor Eske Willerslev within the framework of the ERC Synergy project NEXUS1492. The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Lead author Schroeder, from the University of Copenhagen who carried out the research as part of the NEXUS1492 project, said: "It's a fascinating finding. Many history books will tell you that the indigenous population of the Caribbean was all but wiped out, but people who self-identify as Taíno have always argued for continuity. Now we know they were right all along: there has been some form of genetic continuity in the Caribbean."

Willerslev, who has dual posts at St John's College, University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen, said: "It has always been clear that people in the Caribbean have Native American ancestry, but because the region has such a complex history of migration, it was difficult to prove whether this was specifically indigenous to the Caribbean, until now."

The researchers were also able to trace the genetic origins of the indigenous Caribbean islanders, showing that they were most closely related to Arawakan-speaking groups who live in parts of northern South America today. This suggests that the origins of at least some the people who migrated to the Caribbean can be traced back to the Amazon and Orinoco Basins, where the Arawakan languages developed.

The Caribbean was one of the last parts of the Americas to be populated by humans starting around 8,000 years ago. By the time of European colonization, the islands were a complex patchwork of different societies and cultures. The "Taíno" culture was dominant in the Greater, and parts of the Lesser Antilles, as well as the Bahamas, where the people were known as Lucayans.

To trace the genetic origins of the Lucayans the researchers compared the ancient Bahamian genome with previously published genome-wide datasets for over 40 present-day indigenous groups from the Americas. In addition, they looked for traces of indigenous Caribbean ancestry in present-day populations by comparing the ancient genome with those of 104 contemporary Puerto Ricans included in the 1000 Genomes Project. The 10-15% of Native American ancestry in this group was shown to be closely related to the ancient Bahamian genome.

Jorge Estevez, a Taíno descendant who works at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York and assisted the project team, said that as a boy growing up in the United States, he was told stories about his Taíno ancestors at home, but at school was taught that the same ancestors had died out. "I wish my grandmother were alive today so that I could confirm to her what she already knew," he added. "It shows that the true story is one of assimilation, certainly, but not total extinction. I am genuinely grateful to the researchers. Although this may have been a matter of scientific inquiry for them, to us, the descendants, it is truly liberating and uplifting."

Although indigenous Caribbean communities were island-based, the researchers found very little genomic evidence of isolation or inbreeding in the ancient genome. This reinforces earlier genetic research led by Willerslev, which suggests that early human communities developed surprisingly extensive social networks, long before the term had digital connotations. It also echoes ongoing work by researchers at the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden and others indicating the connectedness of indigenous Caribbean communities.

Professor Corinne Hofman from Leiden University and PI of the NEXUS1492 project, said: "Archaeological evidence has always suggested that large numbers of people who settled the Caribbean originated in South America, and that they maintained social networks that extended far beyond the local scale. Historically, it has been difficult to back this up with ancient DNA because of poor preservation, but this study demonstrates that it is possible to obtain ancient genomes from the Caribbean and that opens up fascinating new possibilities for research."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The history of settlers in Britain from the end of the Ice Age to the present day

From the arrival of the earliest modern humans over 40,000 years ago to the population of the present day, the story of the people of Britain is one of ongoing movement, migration and settlement. A new exhibition at Oxford University Museum of Natural History asks where we came from, and presents surprising answers through archaeological evidence, genetic analysis, and interactive data

Opening with a showcase of remains from the oldest known ceremonial burial in Weste rn Europe, the 33,000 - year - old ‘Red Lady’ of Paviland (actually a man) , the Settlers exhibition charts the patterns of migration that have shaped Britain since the islands became continuously inhab i ted at the end of the last Ice Age, around 12 ,000 years ago. 

“The movement of people across international borders is the subject of much social and political debate across the world, and in B ritain and Europe in particular,” says Professor Paul Smith, director of the Museum of Natural History. “ By taking a long view, and using evidence from the disciplines of genetics, archaeology and geography, our Settlers exhibition presents a unique view of the role of migration in the story of the people of Britain since the end of the last Ice Age. Through this interdisciplinary approach we learn more about a complex subject than if we adopted one point of view alone. ” 

A striking picture of British genetic ancestry is presented through the University of Oxford’s People of the British Isles study, which peer s back in time to reveal how genetic clusters of people in different areas of Britain share genetic connections to people in areas of continental Europe. 

This revealing genetic map of Britain shows that:
  • The people of Orkney are genetically more different from those in the rest of the UK than any other group. The islands were ruled by the Norwegian peoples from 875 to 1472, and people from Orkney share 25 per cent of the variable patterns in their DNA with modern Norwegians. 
  • The Anglo - Saxon colonisation of AD450 - 500 created a merged genetic identity over most of southern, central and eastern England, as the new settlers had children with the established population of Briton. 
  • Small genetically distinct groups which were probably established in pre - Roman tim es are present around the western and northern edge of Britain where the Celtic language survived longest or is still spoken . Yet a single Celtic genetic identity does not exist. Some of these groups are as different from each other genetically - speaking as the people of Scotland are from the people of south - east England.   

Archaeological material shows the geographical and cultural impact of Roman, Viking, and Anglo - Saxon presence in Britain, while more recent demographic data show us the changing patterns of migration over the past 200 years , as the movements of people are affected by world events and shifting conditions in the UK . 

Within Britain, journeys painstakingly recorded from family historian records s how the extent to which the Industrial Revolution drew people to the growing major cities during the 18 th and 19 th centuries. 

By the 20th century this pattern had started to reverse, as people moved away from large urban centres In the 21st century, ongoing movements into, out of , a nd within Britain continue to affect the population. The percentages of people living in Britain but born outside have increased, and so have the numbers of people born in Britain but who live overseas. 

In November 2017, the latest UK migration statistics showed a significant shift in net international migration, with immigration down and emigration rising – the first signs of the impact of Brexit Britain? 

“In Britain, we only really know how many people have come and gone, migrated in or moved out, when the ten - yearly Census results are released. It will not be until a couple of years after the 2021 C ensus that we next reliably know in detail how many people have arrived to stay and how many have left,” says Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geo graphy, at the University of Oxford . 

Settlers encourages visitors to add their own family’s story of movement through the ‘ Where are you from?’ online and in - gallery interactive, and a partnership with the Museum of Oxford brings oral history recordings from its Journeys to Oxford exhibition to the Settlers story. 

Featuring specimens from the Museum of Natural History collections, digital interactive displays, and drawing on research from the University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division and Social Sciences Division, Settlers is the latest in the museum’s Contemporary Science and Society exhibition series. 

“Through displays and events, our Contemporary Science and So ciety series draws together research from the University of Oxford and material from the museum’s collections to explore natural environment topics that impact on society today,” adds Professor Paul Smith. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rare Mosaic from the Roman Period Discovered in Caesarea National Park

The mosaic was uncovered during an archaeological excavation that is part of the largest conservation and reconstruction project ever undertaken in Israel - with an investment of over 100 Million Shekels contributed by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and the Caesarea Development Corporation

A rare and beautiful Roman mosaic from the 2nd-3rd centuries CE, bearing an inscription in ancient Greek, is being uncovered at the Caesarea National Park. The mosaic was excavated during work by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Caesarea Development Corporation throughout Caesarea National Park, in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The excavations, by the Israel Antiquities Authority, are part of reconstruction work on the impressive Crusaders-era entrance bridge to Caesarea. The project is part of the work on a promenade now under construction, led by the Caesarea De

velopment Corporation, which will extend from the town of Jisr a-Zarqa to Caesarea National Park. The dig uncovered part of a large, opulent building dating back 1,500 years to the Byzantine period. Scholars believe the building was part of an agora - large public area for commerce and socializing - a kind of ancient version of Tel Aviv's shopping complexes.

To the archaeologists' surprise, under the imposing Byzantine-era structure they found a spectacular mosaic from an even earlier building dating back about 1,800 years.

According to Dr. Peter Gendelman and Dr. Uzi 'Ad, directors of the excavation for the IsraelAntiquities Authority:  
"This colorful mosaic, measuring more than 3.5 x 8 meters, is of a rare high quality. It features three figures, multicolored geometric patterns and a long inscription in Greek, which were damaged by the Byzantine building constructed on top of it. The figures, all males, wear togas and apparently belonged to the upper class. The central figure is frontal and the two other face him on either side. Who are they? That depends on what the building was used for, which is not yet clear. If the mosaic was part of a mansion, the figures may have been the owners. If this was a public building, they might have represented the donors of the mosaic or members of the city council."

Jacques Nagar, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Art Conservation Department says that this rare mosaic was executed at a very high artistic level, of a type that can be found in places like Antioch in Turkey. The images were depicted using small, densely placed tesserae - with about 12,000 stones per square meter.

The Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Administration is now working to make sure that the exposed parts of the mosaic are preserved and will not disintegrate over time. The area of the bridge is also being re-planned to make the mosaic accessable to the public.

Guy Swersky, deputy and acting chairman of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation says:
 "Old Caesarea never stops surprising, fascinating and thrilling us, time after time revealing slices of history of worldwide significance. This amazing mosaic is a unique find in Israel. This is especially true considering where it was found - in the northern part of the park, in an area that has hardly been excavated. This is more testimony to the importance of the unprecedented conservation and reconstruction project made possible by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, headed by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and his wife, Baroness Ariane de Rothschild. The foundation's enormous investment of over 100 million shekels enables expansion of intensive excavation to other areas in the Old City of Caesarea, and we are of course committed to continuing to unearth Caesarea's hidden treasures." 
According to Sabarsky:
 "Beyond the great historical and archaeological value of the new finds is their economic significance, in terms of upgrading the Israeli tourism product. The find adds even more momentum to the development that the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation has initiated and promotes in Caesarea and throughout the entire region."

Michael Karsenty, CEO of the Caesarea Development Corporation,said that the excavation, conservation and unique restoration work in Caesarea is carried out with strict attention to preserving the archeological, historical and natural elements at the site in all periods.

"In collaboration with our colleagues from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, we make sure to preserve every find in its natural place and are investing huge resources to make the site accessible to Israeli visitors and tourists from all over the world. Caesarea already provides one of the best and most exciting visitor experiences in the world, and as a result attracts more than 700,000 Israeli and foreign tourists every year. We are proud to note that Caesarea is one of the three most visited sites in Israel. But we have no intention of resting on our laurels. At the same time that we make possible the very intensive archeological work throughout the park, the Caesarea Development Corporation, together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, is working to constantly upgrade infrastructure at the site, including the establishment of a spectacular archaeological park, an advanced visitor center, visitor amenities and a delightful promenade that will begin at the ancient aqueduct (Aqueduct Beach) and link up to the promenade along the walls of Caesarea's Old City."
According to Karsenty:
The impressive mosaic joins the many other important recently unearthed archaeological finds. Among these is the altar of the temple built by Herod 2,000 years ago and mentioned by the ancient historian Josephus Flavius; a mother-of-pearl tablet etched with a seven-branched candelabrum, as well as the statue of a ram, which was a symbol of Cristian congregation in the Byzantine period."

Israel Hasson, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority:
"I welcome the fruitful cooperation among all agencies responsible for the wonderful work in Caesarea. Work over the past few years will make this city's magnificent heritage accessible to an even broader public and will restore Caesarea to its glory days as a thriving and cosmopolitan port city, rewarding all visitors with a rich cultural experience.

Photos, Video & Aerial Footage Credits: Assaf Peretz, Yitzhak Marmelstein, EYECON,
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Significant Finds Uncovered in Excavations in Ein Hanniya Park in Rephaim Valley

A large and impressive system of pools from the Byzantine period (4th-6th centuries CE), a fragment of a capital typical of royal structures and estates in the First Temple period and a rare silver coin from the 4th century BCE, one of the most ancient ever found in the Jerusalem area, were found in excavations at Ein Hanniya.

These remarkable and significant finds were unearthed in Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at the site of Ein Hanniya between 2012 and 2016.  The park will open to the public in the coming months. The excavations, which were carried out as part of the establishment of the park, were financed by the Jerusalem Development Authority in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, were headed by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Irina Zilberbod and Yaakov Billig, under the direction of the Jerusalem district archaeologist, Dr. Yuval Baruch, and were accompanied by conservation and development work by the Israel Antiquities Authority's Conservation Administration.

According to Irina Zilberbod, the excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority: "The most significant finding in the excavation is a large and impressive pool from the Byzantine period. This pool was built in the center of a spacious complex at the foot of a church that once stood here. Roofed colonnades were built around the pool that gave access to residential wings."

According to Zilberbod: "It's difficult to know what the pool was used for - whether for irrigation, washing, landscaping or perhaps as part of baptismal ceremonies at the site." The pool's water drained through a network of channels to a magnificent and very special structure, the first of its kind known in Israel - a fountain (nymphaeon)."

Settlement in the area of Ein Hanniya apparently began at the time of the First Temple and perhaps even earlier. The most outstanding find from this period uncovered in the excavation is a fragment of a proto-Ionic capital - an artistic element typical of structures and estates of the kings of the First Temple period. The image of such a capital appears on the Israeli 5-shekel coin.

Similar capitals have been found in the City of David in Jerusalem, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, and at Ramat Rahel, where one of the palaces of the kings of Judah was found. Such capitals were also found in Samaria, Megiddo and Hazor, which were major cities in the Kingdom of Israel.


According to the archaeologists, the site at Ein Hanniya may have been a royal estate at the time of the First Temple. After the destruction of the First Temple, settlement
was renewed at the site in the form of an estate house that was inhabited by Jews.

The most significant find from this period is a rare silver coin, one of the most ancient so far discovered in the Jerusalem area - a drachma, minted in Ashdod by Greek rulers between 420 and 390 BCE.

The coins, pottery, glass, roof tiles and multicolored mosaic tesserae from the Byzantine period unearthed in the excavation attest to the fact that it was during this period (4th-6th centuries CE) that the site reached its zenith.

According to Jerusalem District Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch: "We believe that some early Christian commentators identified Ein Hanniya as the site where the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized, as described in Acts 8:26-40. The baptism of the eunuch by St. Philip was one of the key events in the spread of Christianity. Therefore, identifying the place where it occurred occupied scholars for many generations and became a common motif in Christian art. It's no wonder that part of the site is still owned by Christians and is a focus of religious ceremonies, both for the Armenian Church (which owns the property) and the Ethiopian Church."

The Jerusalem Development Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority undertook conservation and development work at the site over the past few years. The result is an extraordinarily beautiful site incorporating archaeology, an ancient landscape and a unique visitor experience.

The conservation work was carried out by a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Administration. The team was headed by conservator Fuad Abu Ta'a, with architectural planning by architects Avi Mashiah and Yehonatan Tzahor.

 The work included restoration of the ancient water systems, which are now functioning once again. The original spring that fed the pool discovered in the excavation had dried up over the years, and major efforts were invested in channeling water from the existing spring to replenish the pools. The work revealed additional water sources under an impressive stone arch whose surroundings have been restored as a shallow wading spot.
A great deal of attention was paid to restoring the imposing fountain structure (nymphaeon), including cleaning and replacing stones in its façade based on historic photographs and paintings.
Photos & Video Credits: Assaf Peretz, Clara Amit, Yoli Shwartz,
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Friday, February 9, 2018

Neanderthals' lack of drawing ability may relate to hunting techniques

IMAGE: Replica of drawing of lions painted in the Chauvet Cave. Art in the cave has been identified as created by early modern humans. view more 
Credit: Public Domain
Neanderthals had large brains and made complex tools but never demonstrated the ability to draw recognizable images, unlike early modern humans who created vivid renderings of animals and other figures on rocks and cave walls. That artistic gap may be due to differences in the way they hunted, suggests a University of California, Davis, expert on predator-prey relations and their impacts on the evolution of behavior.

Neanderthals used thrusting spears to bring down tamer prey in Eurasia, while Homo sapiens, or modern humans, spent hundreds of thousands of years spear-hunting wary and dangerous game on the open grasslands of Africa.

Richard Coss, a professor emeritus of psychology, says the hand-eye coordination involved in both hunting with throwing spears and drawing representational art could be one factor explaining why modern humans became smarter than Neanderthals.

In an article recently published in the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Coss examines archaeological evidence, genomics, neuroscience studies, animal behavior and prehistoric cave art.

New theory of evolution
From this, he proposes a new theory for the evolution of the human brain: Homo sapiens developed rounder skulls and grew bigger parietal cortexes -- the region of the brain that integrates visual imagery and motor coordination -- because of an evolutionary arms race with increasingly wary prey.

Early humans hunted with throwing spears in sub-Saharan Africa for more than 500,000 years -- leading their increasingly watchful prey to develop better flight or fight survival strategies, Coss said.
Some anthropologists have suggested that throwing spears from a safe distance made hunting large game less dangerous, he said. But until now, "No explanation has been given for why large animals, such as hippos and Cape buffalo, are so dangerous to humans," he said. "Other nonthreatening species foraging near these animals do not trigger alert or aggressive behavior like humans do."

Drawn from earlier research on zebras
Coss' paper grew out of a 2015 study in which he and a former graduate student reported that zebras living near human settlements could not be approached as closely before fleeing as wild horses when they saw a human approaching on foot -- staying just outside the effective range of poisoned arrows used by African hunters for at least 24,000 years.

Neanderthals, whose ancestors left Africa for Eurasia before modern human ancestors, used thrusting spears at close range to kill horses, reindeer, bison, and other large game that had not developed an innate wariness of humans, he said.

Hunting relates to drawing
"Neanderthals could mentally visualize previously seen animals from working memory, but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the coordinated hand-movement patterns required for drawing," Coss writes.

Coss, who taught drawing classes early in his academic career and whose previous research focused on art and human evolution, used photos and film to study the strokes of charcoal drawings and engravings of animals made by human artists 28,000 to 32,000 years ago in the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France.

The visual imagery employed in drawing regulates arm movements in a manner similar to how hunters visualize the arc their spears must make to hit their animal targets, he concludes.

These drawings could have acted as teaching tools. "Since the act of drawing enhances observational skills, perhaps these drawings were useful for conceptualizing hunts, evaluating game attentiveness, selecting vulnerable body areas as targets, and fostering group cohesiveness via spiritual ceremonies," he writes.

As a result, the advent of drawing may have set the stage for cultural changes, Coss said. "There are enormous social implications in this ability to share mental images with group members."

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas

A major international loan exhibition featuring luxury arts created in the ancient Americas will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning February 28. Showcasing more than 300 objects drawn from more than 50 museums in 12 countries, Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas will trace the development of goldworking and other luxury arts from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north from around 1000 B.C. to the arrival of Europeans in the early 16th century. Emphasizing specific places and moments of extraordinary artistic achievement, as well as the exchange of materials and aesthetic ideas across time and place, the exhibition will present a new understanding of ancient American art and culture—one based on indigenous ideas of value—and cast new light on the brilliance of ancient American artists and their legacy. The exhibition will feature spectacular works of art from recent archaeological excavations—crowns, pectorals, pendants, necklaces, ear and nose ornaments, rings, labrets, masks, mantles, goblets, vases, stelas, bells, mirrors, painted books, and more—that have rarely, if ever, left their country of origin.

Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, stated: "It is a great privilege for The Met to present this stunning assemblage of highly prized works of art from more than 50 organizations. This exhibition is the result of an intensive five-year research effort that brought together scholars from across Latin America and the United States, and we're thrilled to share their findings and these beautiful objects with our visitors."

This exhibition is co-organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute.

Exhibition highlights include the exquisite gold ornaments of the Lord of Sipán, the richest unlooted tomb in the ancient Americas; the malachite funerary mask of a woman known as the Red Queen, from the Maya site of Palenque; newly discovered ritual offerings from the sacred precinct of the Aztec Empire; and the "Fisherman's Treasure," a set of Mixtec gold ornaments plundered by Spanish conquistadors and destined for Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and Spanish king, but lost en route to Spain. Recovered from a shipwreck in the 1970s, these final works are poignant reminders of the brilliant traditions of ancient America's lost golden kingdoms. 

"Ideas about artistic production in the ancient Americas have traditionally been based on works in ceramic and stone—objects of durable materials," said Joanne Pillsbury, The Met's Andrall E. Pearson Curator of the Arts of the Ancient Americas. "But there were also exquisitely worked
objects of rare and fragile materials—most of which were destroyed at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Countless works of gold and silver were melted down, and delicate native manuscripts were deliberately burned as part of campaigns to stamp out native religions. And time has taken a heavy toll on featherworks and textiles, which were considered more precious than gold by many indigenous societies. What we present in this show are not only spectacular artworks, but also rare and enormously important objects that escaped destruction."

In the ancient Americas, gold, silver, and copper were used primarily to create regalia and ritual objects—metals were only secondarily used to create weapons and tools. First exploited in the Andes around 2000 B.C., gold was closely associated with the supernatural realm, and over the course of several thousand years the practice of making prestige objects in gold for rulers and deities gradually moved northward, into Central America and Mexico. But in many areas other materials were more highly valued. Jade, rather than gold, was most esteemed by the Olmecs and the Maya, while the Incas and the Aztecs prized feathers and tapestry. In all places, artists and their patrons selected materials that could provoke a strong response—perceptually, sensually, and conceptually—and transport the wearer and beholder beyond the realm of the mundane.

Golden Kingdoms will explore not only artistic practices but also the historical, cultural, social, and political conditions in which luxury arts were produced and circulated. The materials of ancient American luxury arts were closely associated with divine power: they were made of materials thought to have been emitted, inhabited, or consumed by gods. Luxury arts were also relatively small in scale, which meant they could be transported over vast distances as royal gifts or sacred offerings, thus serving as a primary vehicle for the exchange of ideas across regions and through time. The exhibition will present a new portrait of the ancient Americas—one unconstrained by today's national boundaries—revealing networks of artistic exchange in historical context. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

In conjunction with the exhibition, The Met will offer a variety of education programs, including Sunday at The Met—Golden Kingdoms: Forests of Jade (March 25); Family Afternoon—Lasting Legacy (April 8); MetFridays—Artists Respond to Golden Kingdoms: Teresita Fernández (April 13); a Conversation with ... (English and Spanish languages, March 23 and April 27); and Access Discoveries (for children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities (April 22). 

The exhibition was previously on view as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center (September 16, 2017–January 28, 2018).

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas is co-organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The exhibition is curated by The Met's Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson Curator of the Ancient Americas, in collaboration with Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum; and Kim Richter, Senior Research Specialist at the Getty Research Institute.