Study of human migration over 60 000 years

April 20 2006 at 06:49PM 

By Richard Thompson


A project investigating human migration over the last 60 000 years will be discussed at a conference in South Africa next month, organisers said on Thursday.


The Genographic Project will take DNA samples from 100 000 people belonging to indigenous populations around the world. The hope is to demonstrate the migration routes followed by anatomically modern humans as they moved out of Africa - the origin of all humans alive today - and spread across the world.


The Genographic Project is a joint effort by the National Geographic Society, the Waitt Family Foundation and IBM.


'Bare bones' picture of human migration

The director of the project, Dr Spencer Wells, said that before this project began, only about 10 000 people had been tested for genetic markers, meaning that population geneticists and other scientists only had a "bare bones" picture of human migration.


Asked whether human populations had not become so mixed by migration Nespecially in the last 200 years - that a clear picture could not be obtained, Wells said: "We focus on indigenous people, who may have been isolated for some considerable time. They may speak a unique language, and they retain genetic patterns more consistent with what we see in their ancestors."


The project has three key elements:


A programme of sampling and testing DNA from a wide range of indigenous communities around the world, and reporting back to them, "under strict scientific protocols";


A public participation exercise in which interested individuals can purchase a test kit, and send in a sample of their own DNA for analysis. They can then track the progress of their sample, and will be able to go online and find out the path taken by their own distant ancestors from Africa;


A legacy programme, funded principally by the sale of public kits, which aims to ensure the preservation of the culture, languages and traditions of the indigenous communities, who are currently under threat from a variety of directions.


The conference will begin on May 8 at the Maropeng Conference Centre at the Cradle of Humankind, near Johannesburg.


The Sub-Saharan Africa team of researchers is led by the University of the Witwatersrand's head of human genomic diversity and disease research unit, Dr Himla Soodyall.


There are also researchers from Australia and the Pacific, East and Southeast Asia, North Eurasia, India, and the Middle east and North Africa.


The conference, which is to review progress since the launch of the project almost exactly a year ago in Washington DC, is not open to the public, but it will be followed on Thursday, May 11 in Cape Town by two events at the V & A Waterfront.


The first is a scientific "round table", an academic discussion open to interested researchers, and the second, a public lecture in the evening.


Both will be attended by all the principal researchers and their teams.


"We see this as the 'moon shot' of anthropology, using genetics to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of human history," said Wells.


"Our DNA carries a story that is shared by everyone. Over the next five years we'll be deciphering that story, which is now in danger of being lost as people migrate and mix to a much greater extent than they have in the past." - Sapa


On the internet: www.nationalgeographic.com/genographic



Kennewick Man Skeletal Find May Revolutionalize Continent's History

A forensic anthropologist at Middle Tennessee State University is one of a select number of scientists to participate in the examination of a 9,300-year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man that could force historians to rewrite the story of the entire North American continent. 


Newswise — A forensic anthropologist at Middle Tennessee State University is one of a select number of scientists to participate in the examination of a skeleton that could force historians to rewrite the story of the entire North American continent.


Dr. Hugh Berryman, research professor, was one of only 11 experts from across the United States to scrutinize the bones of Kennewick Man, a 9,300-year-old skeleton found 10 years ago along the Columbia River at Kennewick, Wash.


“It’s one of the oldest skeletons, one of the earliest individuals that populated this continent,” Berryman says. “And we have a chance to look at those remains and learn from them what they tell us about the past and who these people were.”


The 380 bones are being preserved at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum under an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the land on which Kennewick was discovered. Berryman says he was between two and three feet deep in the ground. The burial miraculously saved the bones from the elements, the animals, machinery and man for centuries, and ancient deposits of calcium carbonate on the bones allowed the researchers to determine the positioning of the bones in the ground.


“We have evidence that the bones were still in anatomic order,” Berryman says. “He was still articulated, and he appears to have been a burial. So once something is buried, that moves it at a depth that perhaps the coyotes, the wolves, scavengers could not get to it.”


The July 2005 research was very nearly derailed when the Corps initially decided to turn Kennewick over to a coalition of Native American tribes. Eight scientists filed a federal lawsuit to gain permission to study the skeleton. A federal judge, whose ruling later was upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, decided in favor of the scientists after determining that the tribes could not prove a direct cultural affiliation with Kennewick.


Berryman says the information that can be gleaned from Kennewick came close to being lost forever.


“Since 1990, we’ve lost most of the skeletal remains from groups,” Berryman says. “It’s a shame that a lot of these groups are already gone. We have no way of knowing what kind of movements there were in prehistoric times, where these people came from, who they were related to, what other tribal groups they might be related to.”


What the experts were able to ascertain from their brief encounter with Kennewick is that he did not look like a Native American. In fact, Berryman says Kennewick’s facial features are most similar to those of a Japanese group called the Ainu, who have a different physical makeup and cultural background from the ethnic Japanese.


Some Ainu’s facial features appear European. Their eyes may lack the Asian almond-shaped appearance, and their hair may be light and curly in color. However, this does not mean that Kennewick Man necessarily was European in origin. His features more closely resemble those of the natives of the Pacific Rim than those of Native Americans.


Berryman, a fracture expert who was trained in the fine art of picking apart dead people at the University of Tennessee’s “Body Farm,” also documented three types of bone breaks in Kennewick—fractures that were suffered in his lifetime and then healed, fractures that happened after his burial, and fractures that occurred when the skeleton was eroded from the riverbank.


Part of a spear had remained lodged in Kennewick’s right hip bone at a 77-degree angle, but, remarkably, the spear did not cause his death. The cause of his demise remains a mystery. What is known is that this athletic, rugged hunter suffered many physical traumas before finally expiring in his mid-to-late 30s.


“The muscle markings are pretty pronounced,” Berryman says.“He was probably a well-built individual. The bones of the right arm were larger than the left.”


The bigger right arm can be explained by the 18-to-24-inch-long atlatl, or spear thrower, that gave him and his contemporaries the ability to propel a spear up to the length of a football field in order to kill their food. Kennewick died long before the invention of the bow and arrow.


Berryman says Kennewick has only begun to reveal the story of his life and times, and it would be tremendous to have other scientists examine his bones.


“It was a lot slower process than we thought,” Berryman says. “The first day, all day, we looked at one bone, one femur. And then we realized at the end of the day that we were going to be lucky to be able to cover this the way that it should be in a week-and-a-half.”


Age, ancestry, sex, height, pathologies, types of trauma, even whether a woman has given birth—all can be determined just from examining a skeleton, says Berryman, who often is called upon to give expert testimony on bones in criminal trials.


“Bone is great at recording its own history,” he says.“Throughout your life, there are different things that you do, and they may leave little signs in the bone. If you can read those signs, it’s almost like interviewing a person.”'



Missed rock carvings found in ancient 'stew-site'

Maev Kennedy

Monday April 24, 2006


An archaeologist examines the carvings on the Barclodiad y Gawres passage grave on Anglesey. Photograph: George Nash


Deep in the dark heart of a passage grave on Anglesey, archaeologists have discovered a decorated slab carved 4,500 years ago for the dead and their guardians, missed when the tomb was originally excavated over half a century ago.

The newly revealed carving at Barclodiad y Gawres, a chevron design pecked into the rock with a stone chisel, brings to six the number of decorated slabs with lozenges, cupmarks, concentric circles and spirals in a tomb already regarded as one of the most spectacularly decorated prehistoric burial monuments in Britain. It was spotted first by amateur archaeologists Maggie and Keith Davidson, and recorded earlier this month for the first time by a team of rock art experts. The carving is much fainter than on the other slabs, and was missed when the tomb was first excavated in the early 1950s.


Dr George Nash, from Bristol University, who led the team, described the discovery as "highly significant": the chevron design is unique in the region, and only two similarly decorated tombs have been recorded, one nearby on Anglesey, and one in Liverpool which has now been destroyed.

Apart from its significance as a gallery of prehistoric art, Barclodiad y Gawres has a unique place in British archaeology, as the setting for one of the more revolting stews ever recorded from the ancient world.


Originally the whole structure was covered with a turf mound, now replaced by concrete. The seven metre-long passage led to a cruciform burial place, where three small stone cells opened off a central chamber. Remains of cremated human bone were found in the cells, but the central chamber seems to have been used to prepare a stew with some, mercifully lost, ritual significance: analysis suggests the ingredients included fish, eel, newt, frog, toad, mice, shrew and snake.


The passage grave type is more common in Ireland, where the most spectacular examples, such as Newgrange, have richly decorated slabs with almost the entire original surface of a rock the size of a small car pecked away, to leave a pattern in relief. The Irish tomb builders may have directly influenced the monuments on Anglesey and the west coast of Britain.


Archaeological argument still rages about the purpose and significance of prehistoric art, with one expert recently suggesting that many cave paintings and carvings record nothing more than the scribblings of bored adolescents in the ancient darkness.


However there is general consensus that the carvings deep within the passage graves must have been part of a complex ritual of the dead. In many tombs, such as Barclodiad y Gawres, the carvings are only visible from within the tomb, and often mark thresholds, lintels or entrances to the chambers. Archaeologists believe that the majority of the people whose most important dead were buried in such structures would never have been admitted to the secret rituals inside, but kept outside peering into the ominous darkness of the world of the dead.



Beheaded skeletons replay war history


Chinese archaeologists have unearthed some 30 beheaded skeletons dating back more than 2,000 years in central China's Henan Province, a cradle of the Chinese civilization.


The skeletons were obviously warriors, the tallest of whom was at least 1.85 meters, said Sun Xinmin, head of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archeology.


The human remains were found scattered in a pit in the city of Xinzheng, adjacent to a major battlefield where State Qin overthrew State Han toward the end of the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC), said Sun.


He and his peers are working hard to collect and preserve the findings as an expressway linking the provincial capital Zhengzhou will soon start to be built there.


Sun said the skeletons must have belonged to soldiers of State Han and their heads were likely taken by the Qin warriors who intended to receive a promotion based on the number of enemy troops they killed.


Some of the skeletons still disclose evidence of being slashed by by broadswords and many were burned, he said.


State Qin later united all the other smaller states then and established China's first feudal dynasty, which lasted from 221 to 207 B.C..


Three of the skeletons were found crouching on the top of one another and Sun suspected they had been buried alive before they were beheaded.


He said this is the first such finding in China and and is a graphic reminder of the cruelty of war as it was fought approximately 2,000 years ago.


The copper coins spotted close to the skeletons also indicate that the massacre occurred sometime before 221 BC.


"I'd say it was in 230 B.C., the year Yingzheng, the founding emperor of imperial Qin Dynasty, conquered State Han," said Hao Benxing, a researcher with the institute.


Yingzheng was known as the first man to unite the whole of China but he is also known as a bloodthirsty and mercilessness ruler who ordered the massacre of countless soldiers and civilians.


His kingdom, as well as the Qin Dynasty, had a promotion system that inspired killing enemy soldiers, said Zhu Shaohou, a noted professor from elite Henan University and specialist on the Chinese history.


"I've been studying the ancient promotion system for half a century but the beheaded skeletons were the first evidence ever found to prove it," he acknowledged in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.


"State Han was the first small kingdom conquered by State Qin and the skeletons were buried some 30 km from State Han's capital. So we have every reason to believe that the dead warriors were battling for State Han and were beheaded by their foes," he added.


As the war increasingly escalated and became more ruthless, Zhu said that soldiers from State Qin had to annihilate three to five people in order to get a promotion. "They were compelled to kill, as it is said clearly in historical records that anyone who hesitate and cowered during a battle or showed mercy to their enemies would loss their lives themselves. The worst transgressions could lead to a soldier's entire family being vanished."


Such a merciless rule later hindered Qin's development until his famed prime minister Lu Buwei reformed the promotion system and began to persuade defeated enemy soldiers to surrender and follow Qin, he said.


Source: Xinhua



Experts Find Evidence of Bosnia Pyramid


The Associated Press

Thursday, April 20, 2006; 12:03 AM


VISOKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Researchers on Wednesday unearthed geometrically cut stone slabs that they said could form part of the sloping surface of what they believe is an ancient pyramid lying beneath a huge hill.


Archaeologists and other experts began digging at this central Bosnian town last week to explore the team leader's theory that the 2,120-foot hill covers a step pyramid, which would be the first ever found in Europe.


Semir Osmanagic, an amatuer archaeologist points to the geometrically cut stone blocks, at the excavations location on Visocica Hill Wednesday April 19, 2006. Archaeologists and other experts began digging on the sides of the mysterious hill near the central Bosnian town of Visoko last week. The pit workers on the hill revealed Wednesday geometrical stone blocks on one side, which Semir Osmanagic, the leader of the team, claims are the outer layer of the pyramid. "These are the first uncovered walls of the pyramid," said Osmanagic, who studied Latin American pyramids for 15 years and who proposed the theory that the 650-meter (2,120-foot) mound rising above the small town of Visoko is actually a step pyramid _ the first such found in Europe. "We can see the surface is perfectly flat. This is the crucial material proof that we are talking pyramids," he said. (AP Photo/Amel Emric) (Amel Emric - AP)


"These are the first uncovered walls of the pyramid," Semir Osmanagic, a Bosnian archaeologist who studied the pyramids of Latin America for 15 years, said of the stonework found Wednesday.


"We can see the surface is perfectly flat. This is the crucial material proof that we are talking pyramids," he said.


Osmanagic believes the structure will prove to be 722 feet high, or a third taller than Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza.


The huge stone blocks discovered Wednesday appeared to be cut in cubes and polished.


"It is so obvious that the top of the blocks, the surface is man-made," Osmanagic said.


Earlier research on the hill, known as Visocica, found that it has 45-degree slopes pointing toward the cardinal points and a flat top. Under layers of dirt, workers discovered a paved entrance plateau, entrances to tunnels and large stone blocks.


Satellite photographs and thermal imaging revealed two other, smaller pyramid-shaped hills in the Visoko Valley.


Last week's excavations began with a team of rescue workers from a nearby coal mine being sent into a tunnel believed to be part of an underground network connecting the three pyramid-shaped hills.


They were followed by archeologists, geologists and other experts who emerged from the tunnel later to declare that it was certainly man-made.


The work at Visoko, about 20 miles northwest of Sarajevo, will continue for about six months. Two experts from Egypt are due to join the team in mid-May.


"It will be a very exciting archaeological spring and summer," Osmanagic said.



Jason's 'Argo' to be recreated in Greece

Mythical boat used in Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece

Sunday, April 23, 2006; Posted: 8:26 a.m. EDT (12:26 GMT)


VOLOS, Greece (Reuters) -- Shipbuilders in the small Greek port of Volos are struggling with handmade tools and methods used millennia ago to recreate the Argo, the legendary vessel of Jason and the Argonauts.


The absence of modern resources such as electricity and machine tools makes it an exhausting task, but authenticity is an essential part of this experiment in ancient shipbuilding.


"It's extremely laborious work," said builder Stelios Kalafatidis. "We don't have large, proper, modern tools, only our hands and wooden mallets and chisels."


In one of the most popular tales of Greek mythology, Jason and his handpicked crew of Argonauts sailed from Volos, named Iolcos in ancient times, on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the ancient city of Colchis in modern Georgia.


Aided by heroes such as Hercules and Orpheus, Jason overcame monsters and hostile kings on his lengthy mission to snatch the fleece of the sacred golden ram from the dragon guarding it and run off with Medea, the sorceress and daughter of Colchis' king.


The Naudomos Institute, a group of shipbuilders and historians heading the project, is using ancient Greek tools and techniques to build the new Argo, and plans to retrace the mythical journey when the ship is ready.


The team had to ignore everything they knew about modern boatbuilding and employ the same wood and iron tools used by Jason's warriors more than 3,000 years ago.


Divine intervention

In Greek myth, 50 Argonauts built the Argo in three months with the aid of the goddess Athena, who placed a magical piece of timber in the prow that could speak and prophesy.


The three modern-day builders say they could use some divine help in recreating the 14th century BC vessel. In 15 months' hard work, they have built only one quarter of the 28-meter (92-foot) ship.


Wooden pegs and wedges hold together the ship's frame and planks. In ancient times, the gaps between the planks were caulked with resin, but the modern builders have mixed the resin with glue to preserve the ship for future generations when it is housed in a museum after its journey.


Whole trees were placed in the hull, said project director Apostolos Kourtis, who searched for days in the same forests as Jason's men to find long, straight trees for the purpose.


"They used whole trees that were bent into shape. We don't do that today," Kourtis said. "Ships were without frames, there was no metal."


Veteran shipbuilder Yannis Perros, one of the team, said he had doubts when he first saw the plans.


"We were saying 'how are we going to build it with entire trees?'" he said. "But it's a durable structure, it will float and travel miles."


In recreating the myth, there were few facts to go on. The story was first written down by Apollonius Rhodius about 11 centuries after the voyage is thought to have taken place.


Picturing the Argo

To design the ship, the modern shipbuilders pieced together images from ancient vase paintings, wall frescoes and references to ships from around the same period, gathered from museums and libraries around the world.


Kourtis said the appearance of the ship was easier to determine than how it was built -- although it helped that shipbuilding methods changed little in ancient times.


"This is experimental archaeology, an investigation, in order to come as close to the original version as possible and say, this is how it most likely was," he said.


The idea of copying ancient ships is not new. A 4th century BC Athenian trireme was replicated by a British scholar in the 1980s, as was the Greek merchant ship Kyrenia, from the same period, by Greek professors.


But their task was easier because the original Kyrenia, very well preserved, was raised from the seabed off northern Cyprus, and ample descriptions of the trireme existed in the literature of the time.


The Naudomos Institute first experimented with ancient shipbuilding in 2004 by completing a smaller Bronze age Minoan transport ship.


Once the Argo is complete, citizens can volunteer to crew the 50-oar ship on Jason's journey across the Aegean, through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea and on to the coast of Georgia.


They face an arduous test, rowing for 10 to 15 hours a day, Kourtis said. "I have no doubt about the ship. The question is whether the rowers will be able to find the strength needed to complete the journey," he said.




Charlevoix could be Griffin research site

Oldest sailing vessel on Lakes was lost in 1679




CHARLEVOIX — He was the first European to sail a ship on the northern Great Lakes, and also the first to lose one.


The Griffin, a primary ship of the French explorer La Salle, is thought to have disappeared in a storm in northern Lake Michigan in the fall of 1679.


A Great Lakes treasure hunter who thinks he's found it wants to stage his archeological operation in Charlevoix.


City leaders have been asked to provide dock space this summer so crews, including scientists from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, can do research. It could be an important discovery, said Scott J. Demel, the Field Museum's adjunct curator in anthropology.


"If this is the Griffin, it's certainly significant," said Demel. "It's what we consider the oldest sailing vessel on Lake Michigan and one of the oldest in the Great Lakes."


La Salle — his full name was Rene-Robert Cavalier, Sier de La Salle — was commissioned by France to establish trade routes along the Mississippi River. One of his support boats was the Griffin, or "Griffon" in French. It set sail from present-day northeast Wisconsin on Sept. 18 1679, and was never seen again.


 Steve Libert, an avid diver, treasure hunter and president of the Great Lakes Exploration Group, discovered a wreck in 2001 he suspects could be the vessel. But research has been on hold for more than a year while Libert and the state battle in federal court over ownership rights.


The dispute is far from settled but the two sides have recently agreed to continue with research — though not salvage — operations.


"We've agreed to have the investigation go forward to determine definitely whether the shipwreck is the Griffin," said Rick Robol, Libert's attorney.


Charlevoix, where Libert owns a summer home, could play a role. Libert is planning a fund raiser there this summer, hosting an event with his team and visiting French scientists to attract publicity and to "help promote sponsorships and endorsements for the expedition," according to his request to the city.


He has asked to use one boat slip for about a week in July.


Charlevoix resident and former mayor Josh Barnes was asked by the city to meet with Libert and gather information. Barnes wrote a recommendation letter to city leaders noting the research could "bring world-wide publicity" to the town.


"They'd be crazy not to" provide the requested dock space, Barnes said Monday.


Demel said scientists would conduct sonar and other surface tests at the wreck site. It's in the mouth of Green Bay, about 70 miles west of Charlevoix.


"It's an exciting project. It may turn out to be nothing. It might turn out to be a much more recent wreck, but there's only one way to find out," Demel said.


Libert could not be reached Monday. His wife Kathie said her husband wants the wreck preserved.


"He would love to see it go into the Chicago Field Museum, because it's centered on the lake. That would be his number one wish," she said.