Study: DNA Differences Pinpoint Ancestry

Dec. 20


People from different parts of the world have more in common than was previously thought — genetically, at least.


A study in Friday's Science magazine confirms earlier studies showing that the peoples of the world may look different, but their genes are basically the same.


But Stanford University scientists found that those small difference are enough to pinpoint most people's geographical ancestries from their DNA.  


Study leader Marcus Feldman took DNA samples from 1,056 people from 52 populations in five geographical regions: Africa, Eurasia, East Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Researchers then identified "microsatellites," short bits of DNA strands that are common to each population and are transmitted from one generation to the next.


"Each microsatellite had between four and 32 distinct types," Feldman said. "Most were found in people from several continents, suggesting that only a tiny fraction of genetic traits are distinctive to specific populations. This means that visible differences between human groups — such as skin color and skull shape — result from differences in a very small proportion of genetic traits."


In other words, the DNA sequences of one person and another are 99.9 percent identical.


The researchers also said that 94 percent of all genetic variations exist among members of the same population group, while variations between two groups of different populations represent just three to five percent.


A group of scientists, led by Noah Rosenberg at Southern California University, found that they could pinpoint a person's geographical ancestry through DNA analysis. The blindfold test used 1,056 unlabeled DNA samples that experts attempted to assign to a particular geographical area and a sub-group of the population.


The experts placed samples on the geographical map with pinpoint accuracy for people from Africa, East Asia Oceania and the Americas. Eurasians (those from Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia) proved more difficult, Feldman said.


"A complex history of migrations, conquests and trade over the past few thousand years is likely to be the cause of this difficulty," Feldman said.

The exception that proves the rule is the Basques of Spain. That population, largely isolated both geographically and linguistically from the rest of Europe, has clear DNA markers.


China Conducts DNA Studies on Woman Corpse from Ancient Tomb

Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, December 30, 2002


An archaeological studies institute with Jilin University is conducting researches on human physique and ancient DNA over a woman corpse unearthed from Beijing's Laoshan Tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-24 A.D.). This is the first time that China uses the most advanced molecular biology means for DNA studies on royal members of Han Dynasty.


An archaeological studies institute with Jilin University is conducting researches on human physique and ancient DNA over a woman corpse unearthed from Beijing's Laoshan Tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-24 A.D.). This is the first time that China uses the most advanced molecular biology means for DNA studies on royal members of Han Dynasty.


By now researchers have completed the body and image restoration and measurement work, and are now trying to abstract DNA from the bones unearthed, then enlarge and sequence it. Mr Pan Qifeng, noted anthropologist and senior research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, acted as technological advisor of the project.


The abstraction work is not going smooth since the DNA in bones of Laoshan Tomb has seriously degraded and the first two efforts failed to find DNA scraps containing more than 100 BP, said Zhu Hong, who is in charge of the project. On December 10 a scrap was finally abstracted from the brain tissues which can be put into testing if proved not polluted. If the DNA proved not belonging to the corpse itself, new samples would be abstracted from the teeth, place of the highest DNA density. It needs at least two months to complete a series of tests and draw the final conclusions.


The woman corpse was unearthed in Beijing in August 2000, and transported to Changchun on October 23 this year. The Jilin University, according to related agreements, is responsible for ancient bone and image restoration, as well as studies on ancient human physique and DNA, so as to provide genetics and anthropological evidences to the history and blood relationship of the royal family of Han Dynasty.


The University has successfully abstracted and studied human bones unearthed in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Qinghai and Northeast China, and basically set up an ancient DNA bank of frontier areas.


By PD Online Staff Li Heng


Beijing to protect and spruce up Peking Man caves

Plans to save world heritage site from deterioration and pollution comes as part of city's upgrading for 2008 Olympics

By Goh Sui Noi


BEIJING - Future visitors to the archaeological site where the Peking Man was discovered will have the 2008 Olympic Games to thank for what they see.

Plans are afoot to better protect the famous Zhoukoudian caves, about 42 km south-west of Beijing, and to clean up and develop the surrounding area.

From now to the start of the Games in 2008, work will be carried out to, among other things, build a new museum and research centre, improve facilities in the core archaeological site, complete a heritage site park, and plant a forest and fruit tree orchard.


Most importantly, illegal structures in the vicinity and polluting industries such as cement factories, limestone works and coal mines will be shut or better controlled.


For years now, the condition of the caves has been deteriorating because of weather and pollution. The caves, where the fossilised bones of man's earliest ancestors were first found in the 1920s, were in danger of collapsing unless more was done to protect them, an academician warned last year.


Mr Zhu Min, a director with the Chinese Academy of Sciences which runs the site, told the Xinhua news agency that more money was needed to preserve the area.


Last year, the museum at the site was closed for months because of a lack of funds to make necessary repairs. But what was most damaging was polluting industries nearby.


'For a long time, experts have been urging that these industries be moved,' said Mr Hsieh Ninggao of the World Heritage Sites Research Centre at Beijing University.


But it was difficult because it affected people's livelihoods, he added.


Beijing's winning of the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games seems to have changed the fate of one of the world's most important archaeological sites, where the Peking Man was believed to have lived 500,000 years ago.


In August, Beijing's municipal government took over the management of the site and a blueprint to preserve and develop the site was announced earlier this month on the 15th anniversary of its status as a world heritage site.


'With the coming of the new century and the success of Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, there is a higher demand on us to protect and develop the heritage site,' the city's vice-mayor Zhang Mao had said in a speech announcing the plans.


Indeed, in preparation for the Games, the city intends to spend 120 million yuan (S$25.6 million) annually from 2003 to 2008 to restore its historical landmarks.

From next year, new regulations will kick in that will protect the city's heritage sites from destruction or unauthorised changes.


'A balance has to be struck between preservation and development,' said Mr Hsieh.


Planned facelift for site


Three 2,500-year old burial urns unearthed in Madurai

Press Trust of India

Madurai, December 25


Three burial urns, at least 2,500 year-old, were unearthed while workmen were digging the ground for laying water supply pipeline at Mamsapuram, near Thirumangalam in the district recently, a top official of Madurai Museum said on Wednesday.


Santhalingam, the official incharge of excavation of the Museum, said the urns, known as 'Mudhumakkal   Thali' (old people's urn) in ancient Tamil, were used by the Tamils to bury the ashes of their dead family member.


The urns, found on December 20, were also meant for dishes that were liked by the persons who died. Bones of the dead persons were also found, the official said.


The surface of the urns contain some drawings. "This is the first time we have come across urns with drawings of garlands. Maybe people could have used such special urns to bury VIPs in those days," he said.


In case of the death a warrior, the custom had been to bury the weapons used by him along with the urn, he said, adding there was scope for unearthing more urns from the area, for which central government permission was required.



Bluestone finds resting place in the National Garden's rockery

Dec 30 2002

The Western Mail


THE ill-fated Millennium Blue-stone is to go on the move again.


The Pembrokeshire stone, which was to have been dragged 240 miles to Stonehenge to mark the Millennium, will instead travel by road next month to a new final resting place at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.


It was confirmed yesterday the garden, which attracts around 200,000 visitors a year, will be its new permanent home.


The trip will be the first time the four-tonne rock has been moved since it was rescued by Navy divers after falling into the sea off Dale in June 2000, while on the sea leg of its journey.


Currently languishing on the quayside at Milford Docks, it will finally cross the county boundary in mid-January when it will be taken to the Garden along with one of the two replica currachs (coracle based boats) used in its transportation.

It will travel the 50-odd miles to Llanarthne by lorry.


Owen Jenkins, communications manager at the National Garden, said it was delighted to be able to provide a fitting final resting place.


"We are aware that had it been successful in its journey to Stonehenge it was to have been erected in a place accessible to people," he said.


"We want as many people as possible from all over the world to be able to see the stone and to be able to touch it as well because it is reputed to have mystical properties.


"It will certainly complement our exhibition, which displays the rocks of Wales through the ages and the currach will be moored on one of our lakes. It will be a great start to what promises to be an exciting year here which will also see the opening of the Double Walled Garden."


The bluestone was the centre of a controversial project to replicate the 4,000-year-old journey of the giant stones from the Preseli mountains in Pembrokeshire, which make up the inner circle of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. But modern man was unable to achieve what his Neolithic ancestors did. Although the stone was successfully dragged 17 miles from the Preseli Hills to the Cleddau River, a series of mishaps, culmin-CERI JONES ating in a watery grave, meant that it never left Pembrokeshire.


For the past two years it has been gathering barnacles on the quayside at Milford Docks as the Heritage Lottery Fund, which bankrolled the project to the tune of £100,000 and Pembrokeshire County Council decided what to do with it.


There were offers to take the stone, including a strong bid to return it to Mynachlogddu. But now the Heritage Lottery Fund, which owns the assets of the project, has decided to allow the National Garden to feature the stone as part of its Rocks of Ages exhibition. The rock, 8ft x 3ft x 2ft, will be the centrepiece of a site aimed at displaying its heritage.


But Mynachlogddu folk want the stone back for a new children's recreation area. Farmer Hywel John, from whose land the stone was originally taken, said, "The stone shouldn't go to this place. It should come back to this area. We want it back." And local historian and long time critic of the project Dillwyn Miles said, "It should go back to the source of the bluestones. It should never have left there."


Archaeologists find 4,000-year-old tombs


Archaeologists have found four Pharaonic tombs in Egypt that go back more than 4,000 years.


The country's Supreme Council of Antiquities said the tombs were uncovered by Spanish archaeologists in the Ahanassya district, 60 miles south of Cairo.

The head of the supreme council, Zahi Hawass, said the walls of one of the tombs were decorated with religious drawings, and a picture of the tomb's owner appeared on its door.


The tombs date from 2260-2050 BC.

Story filed: 15:39 Saturday 28th December 2002


Tombs discovered in Egypt

Archaeologists working in Egypt have found four tombs which are thought to date back more than 4000 years.  


Authorities said the discovery was made by a Spanish team of archaeologists working about 60 miles south of Cairo.


The walls of one of the tombs were decorated with religious drawings and a picture of the tomb`s owner - thought to be a pharoah - had been inscribed on its door.


Ancient Roman tower found

From correspondents in de Meern, Netherlands

January 02, 2003


DUTCH archaeologists have discovered the foundations of a wooden watchtower, built by Roman soldiers on the banks of the Rhine almost 2000 years ago.


They say the watchtower was part of a chain of observation posts guarding the river, which marked the border of the Roman empire at its greatest extent.

Chief archaeologist on the project, Erik Graafstal, believes the towers were used to monitor shipping on the river and to sound the alarm if hostile Germanic tribes threatened to attack.


While most wooden structures crumble with time, the watchtower's foundation survived in part because it was buried under a Roman road built about a century later.


With the discovery of the well-preserved tower foundation about 35km southeast of Amsterdam, other fragmentary remains can now also definitely be said to have been watchtowers, Graafstal said.


The towers were built at intervals of 500 to 1500 metres, close enough that guards would have been able to signal each other and alert soldiers stationed at nearby bases to any trouble on the river.


Graafstal said the find rivals in importance the wreck of a fully loaded Roman freight ship that was found in the same area in 1997, which will be excavated this spring.


"The discovery of the watchtower is at least as nice, because due to its exemplary preservation, we can get a lot of new insights into the appearance of this kind of building and the functioning of the border," Graafstal said.

The archaeologists date the tower possibly as early as AD 50, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius.


The Associated Press


Ancient loos under threat


Archaeologists have expressed surprise at finding a complex medieval toilet system during a dig at a shopping centre redevelopment site.


The find at the Sheridan Centre in Gaolgate Street, Stafford, has gone on show to the public, but will eventually be "destroyed" by work to construct a new retail development.


The stone-lined garderobe system, which can be seen from a special viewing platform, is thought to date back to 11th, 12th or 13th century and would have formed part of a substantial building, possibly a Royal castle.

The discovery was made just a week after experts started digging at the town-centre site prior to redevelopment.


Stafford Borough Council Archaeologist, David Wilkinson, said: "Whatever was associated with it was a major building of high status.


"The site is going to be redeveloped as a new shopping centre, so whatever is there will be destroyed or lost."

Story filed: 07:57 Saturday 28th December 2002


Monday, 30 December, 2002, 12:12 GMT

Medieval ship may have crossed Atlantic


Reconstruction of the timbers is to start in New Year


Campaigners who successfully fought to preserve a medieval ship discovered on the banks of the River Usk, claim it could have been among the first to cross the Atlantic.


The 15th Century craft was found buried in the riverbank, in Newport, south Wales, in June, when builders started hollowing out the orchestra pit of a new theatre and art centre.


At first it was feared that a lack of money would mean the boat, which is older than the Mary Rose, could not be saved.


But a campaign by local people and £3m in funding from the Welsh Assembly Government meant the ship could be preserved.


Archaeologists have finally finished excavating the remains and in the New Year will reconstruct the 65ft ocean-going vessel so that it can eventually be put on public display.


Charles Ferris, from pressure group Save Our Ship, which successfully campaigned to get the vessel preserved, says it is possible the boat was one of the first to travel to America.


He told BBC Radio Wales: "I really think that this ship is so important.



"When you consider that the world thinks that Columbus discovered America in 1492, people now know that merchants from the Severn area were fishing off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland as early as 1480.


"Perhaps this ship could have been there for the first trans-Atlantic crossings."

He added: "It is such a relief when we had those dark days when we thought it couldn't be saved.


"We don't feel we can relax until we know that all of her is excavated and all of her will be put on display."


Kate Hunter, keeper of conservation at Newport Museum and Art Gallery, added: "We know the ship went into the Bay of Biscay and to Portugal, but we don't know if it would have got across the Atlantic.


"But the ship is internationally important. It is one of just four large medieval ships in the world and the only one of this period.


"At this period of history, the great voyages of discovery were taking place."

Around 2,000 pieces of the vessel have been taken to containers at the Corus steelworks at Llanwern near Newport to prevent erosion by air.


The city council hopes to have a display about the ship in place by 2004 in the newly-constructed arts centre basement.


Tree-ring dating has shown the ship was made from an oak tree felled between September 1465 and April 1466.


Artefacts found as part of the dig include shoes, woollen cloth and Portuguese pottery.


On 11 December, a set of human bones - two leg bones, a pelvis, part of the spine and ribcage and parts of the arms bones and some hand and finger bones - were also discovered.


US Looking for Ways to Protect Iraq’s Priceless Antiquities


As Washington prepares to go to war against Baghdad, US defense officials—mindful of the widespread devastation that a military campaign would inflict—are looking for ways to preserve and protect Iraq’s priceless antiquities and archeological treasures. Pentagon officials, who have long endeavored to limit civilian casualties in military engagements, are presented with an additional concern in the impending conflict with Iraq, as they try to minimize the potential damage to a treasure trove of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts in Iraq that have come to be seen as part of the world’s cultural heritage. The first task however, is determining where these treasures are, US officials say. There are roughly some 10,000 archeological sites throughout the area, according to experts, the oldest of which date back to 5000 BC and the vast majority of which are unexplored. Uppermost in the concerns of US officials are archeological sites located in and near the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur, deemed by some scholars to be the cradle of civilization.


Also of interest is Nineveh, the capital of the ancient Assyrian empire, located in what is now northern Iraq. Both locales are believed to hold substantial undiscovered antiquities. Washington has enlisted a team of experts knowledgeable about the region who will catalogue information about historical and archeological sites scattered across Iraqi territory, and who have agreed to pass that information to the Pentagon. Leading the effort is McGuire Gibson, an archeologist from the University of Chicago who has made frequent expeditions to Iraq over the past decade. Working with him is Charles Butterworth, a professor at the University of Maryland. "They contacted us because they recognize our expertise in this field," said Butterworth, who described Iraq’s treasures as being of "incalculable historical value." The effort is massive in scope. It involves a detailed review of existing archeological surveys—some of which date back to the 19th century—and in some instances even cross referencing maps of ancient Mesopotamia against those of modern Iraq.


Gibson and Butterworth, who are to be aided by about 40 academics in the task of locating and charting Iraq’s historical sites, have a longstanding interest in the antiquities of the region. The duo had hoped years ago to open a historical research center in Iraq, but that effort had to be abandoned because of the 1991 Gulf War. "The work is indispensable," Butterworth said. "The plotting of these sites was done by the Iraqis a long time ago, and is not precise enough." The possibility that war could lead to the destruction of even a small percentage of Iraq’s historical treasures has raised the concern of scholars, curators and archeologists from around the world. Ashton Hawkins, president of the American Council for Cultural Policy and Maxwell Anderson, president of the American Association of Art Museum Directors, said recently that it is not just the Iraqis who will be impoverished should an errant missile strike one of the sites. "What they contain is not merely the patrimony of one small nation but that of much of the modern world, including the United States," they wrote in an opinion piece published recently in the US press.


Even artifacts safeguarded at the Museum of Baghdad are not fully out of harm’s way, according to Butterworth. He warned that a nearby television station likely would be a prime target of US missiles, and worried that a bomb might go off course, laying waste to the museum and its precious exhibits. Josh Keller, a military expert with the Federation of American Scientists said the risk of an errant missile striking an Iraqi museum or cultural site is greatly diminished in this era of "smart bomb" technology, which allows the US military to mark its target with pinpoint accuracy. He cautioned, however, that such a system is not foolproof. "It is difficult to mark the area electronically. It has to be done by the intelligence," Keller said, adding that "it’s almost impossible to mark every area." (AFP)


Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 15:07 GMT

Top ten treasures announced


East Anglia has provided many of the finest treasures found in the UK - but Northumberland takes the top spot, according to experts.


A top ten of treasures of the British Museum includes three found in Suffolk and one found in Norfolk.


But the Anglo-Saxon hoard found at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, was beaten into second place by the Roman Vindolanda tablets found in Northumberland.


Experts voted on their favourite treasure in a special edition of BBC Two's Meet the Ancestors programme.

Top Ten Treasures

1. Vindolanda Tablets, Northumberland

2. Sutton Hoo ship burial, Suffolk

3. Hoxne Hoard, Suffolk

4. Snettisham Hoard, Norfolk

5. Lewis Chessmen

6. Mold Gold Cape, north Wales

7. Mildenhall Treasure, Suffolk

8. Fishpool Hoard, Lancashire

9. Cuerdale Hoard, Lancashire

10. The Ringlemere and Rillaton Cups, Kent


Other hoards in the list included the Hoxne Roman treasure and the Mildenhall Treasure, both found in Suffolk, and the Snettisham Hoard found in Norfolk.


A panel of five experts from the British Museum decided on the order of the top ten.


The Vindolanda Tablets were found by archaeologist Robin Birley near Hadrian's Wall, in Northumberland in 1975.


In all, there are more than 400 tablets - postcard-sized slivers of wood on which notes and letters were written in ink.


Evidence at the site dated the tablets to the first century AD, making them one of the earliest written records ever found in Britain.


The Anglo-Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo was discovered just before the start of World War II.

At the centre of the burial site archaeologists found an entire Anglo-Saxon ship buried in a mound and containing the most highly-crafted swords, shield, belt and buckles - all made in gold and many intricately inlaid with garnets.

It also contained a helmet.


The Mildenhall Treasure consists of a set of Roman tableware, including the Great Dish with engravings showing pagan gods.


The Hoxne Treasure consists of jewellery, precious tableware and toilet instruments, along with 15,000 gold, silver and bronze coins.


The Snettisham Treasure includes coins, ingots and torcs (heavy silver and gold neck rings).