Orkney Islanders have Siberian relatives

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 23/05/2008


A new study on ancient human migrations suggests that Orcadians and Siberians are closely related, writes Roger Highfield.


Orkney Islanders are more closely related to people in Siberia and in Pakistan than those in Africa and the near East, according to a novel method to chart human migrations.


The surprising findings come from a new way to infer ancient human movements from the variation of DNA in people today, conducted by a team from the University of Oxford and University College Cork, which has pioneered a technique that analyses the entire human genetic makeup, or genome.


Although it provides relative genetic contributions of one group to another, rather than timings, it confirms how the first modern humans came out of Africa 50,000 years ago, mostly from a group in southern Africa called the San.


But the subsequent movements around the world, via the near east, central Asia and then Europe, turned up some surprises including a strong similarity between the Sindih, a people who once lived in Pakistan, and Orkney Islanders, or Orcadians.


In turn, the Orcadians are closely related to the people who first colonised Siberia.


"Reindeer herders (a people called the Yakut) are indeed unexpectedly related to British, because one of their strongest signals of ancestry is from Orcadians, the only British population in the sample" says Dr Daniel Falush of University College Cork, a co-author on the paper in the journal PLoS Genetics.


The Orcadians, or those closely related to them in central/northern Europe, also contribute to two other North East Asian populations, the Hezhen and Han from Northern China.


"Humans like to tell stories and amongst the most captivating is the story of the global spread of modern humans from their original homeland in Africa," says Dr Falush.


"Traditionally this has been the preserve of anthropologists but geneticists are now starting to make an important contribution."


Previous methods have either concentrated on one part of the human genetic code (for example, just the Y-chromosome) or a greatly oversimplified model of heredity.


"Our technique enables us to identify more subtle details about genetic contributions than other methods," says Dr Garrett Hellenthal of the University of Oxford, a co-author.


"By incorporating the inheritance of 'blocks' of DNA between generations, rather than just individual genes, it captures a panoramic view of the sharing of patterns of DNA across the entire human genome," he says.


"This allows us to consider a vast number of possible colonisation scenarios - not just the ones people have already thought of - and use an algorithm to determine the most likely migration routes."


The new technique was used to analyse 2540 genetic markers using DNA data from 927 individuals of diverse ethnicity whose DNA was collected by the Human Diversity Project.


The researchers believe their method can cope with much larger datasets with over 500,000 genetic markers and are now working on a detailed picture of migrations into Europe.



Prehistoric cave uncovered in Western Galilee

22 May 2008


A stalactite cave containing prehistoric remains was exposed in the Western Galilee. Among the artifacts found are flint implements and the bones of animals long extinct.


While carrying out development work connected with the construction of a sewage line in a forest of the Jewish National Fund, a large stalactite cave was accidentally breached inside of which an abundance of prehistoric artifacts were discovered.


Immediately upon exposing the cave personnel were summoned there from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Center for Cave Exploration and the Western Galilee Rescue Unit.


According to Dr. Ofer Marder, head of the Prehistory Branch of the Israel Antiquities Authority who examined the cave, “It seems that during the past 40-50 years no cave has been found with such a wealth of prehistoric finds and certainly not inside such a lovely stalactite cave. The cave includes a number of chambers, of which the main chamber measures c. 60 x 80 meters. Inside it is a soil accumulation that contains numerous flint tools that were knapped by man and a variety of zoological remains of animals that are no longer present in our country’s landscape such as the red deer, fallow deer, buffalo and even the remains of bears”.


The cave is being researched by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Jewish National Fund and the Center for Cave Exploration. The initial impression of those who first examined the cave is that it seems to date to the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000-20,000 YBP); however, it is possible that the cave was also used in earlier periods and a final determination with regards to this can only be made following a thorough study of it.


At this point the cave is sealed and access to it is not possible. The Israel Antiquities Authority is inspecting the special finds that were discovered there and at a later stage a study will be required to examine the animal population, climate and geology of the region during the periods when the cave was being used. The cave will also be dated by means of advanced scientific methods that will provide researchers with an absolute chronological range.



Unique Dutch settlement discovered from Bronze Age

May 23, 2008, 8:52 GMT


Amsterdam - Archaeologists have found a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age just north of Eindhoven, a city in the southern Netherlands, Dutch archaeologist Nico Arts told Dutch media Friday.


The discovery was made during preparations for the building of a highway junction at Ekkersrijt, north of Eindhoven.


The settlement may be the largest ever discovered in the Netherlands, and is definitely the largest settlement ever found in the southern Netherlands.


Bronze Age settlements (1500-850 BC) have also been discovered in the province of Drenthe in the eastern Netherlands. However, these are smaller than the Eindhoven settlement.


Some 4 hectares have been dug out, unveiling at least 19 farms and more than 50 other buildings and two cemeteries. All farms are built in a similar fashion and the distances from one farm to another are the same.


The archaeological work is due to continue in the upcoming months. The settlement will however not be preserved as the Ekkersrijt highway junction planned on top of the settlement is due to operate by late 2009.



Romans were upper crust on daily bread

May 21 2008 by Tony Henderson, The Journal


WHEN it came to their daily bread, troops at a Northumberland Roman fort took no chances.


Excavations at Vindolanda are revealing two massive granaries whose quality even outshone the nearby commanding officer’s quarters. The dig is also uncovering a magnificent flagged roadway next to the granaries.


“The masonry of these granaries is far superior to that of the nearby commanding officer’s residence, and although some of the walls have suffered from stone robbing, others are standing to a height of around 5ft,” said director of excavations Andrew Birley. “The magnificent section of superbly flagged Roman roadway is probably now the best example to be seen in the North.”


Samples of material trapped in vents below the flagged floors of the granaries are expected to reveal the nature of the foodstuffs and other goods once stored in the buildings, together with the bones of rodents that attempted to feed upon them.


Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, said: “They would have had to keep considerable amounts of supplies for at least 500 men in the fort.


“But the granaries and roadway are very impressive. It is Roman building at its best.”


Archaeological evidence, including a bronze brooch and strap end, has also confirmed that people were using the granaries as accommodation from the 5th to the 8th Centuries, proving that Vindolanda continued to be occupied long after the end of Roman rule in Britain. Previous digs have uncovered the remains of a 5th Century church on the site.


The Vindolanda 2008 excavations, with a large contingent of volunteers drawn from all over the world, will continue every day until mid-September.



Tower found under mound

By Reg Little



WORK to repair Oxford Castle's mound has revealed a ten-sided tower that has been hidden for more than two centuries.


The foundations of a 13th-century tower that once stood on top of the mound were discovered during work to deal with land slippage.


Excavation work at the Oxford landmark on New Road has led to a section of the tower seeing the light of day for the first time since the 1790s.


The current grass mound is the main surviving part of the Norman castle built by Robert D'Oilly in the 1070s.


The mound was originally crowned by a timber tower inside a defensive palisade reached by a bridge from the courtyard below.


But the mound was raised in height during the 13th century, when the ten-sided stone tower was built overlooking the Medieval city. It is a section of the outside wall of one of these ten sides that has now been exposed, to the delight of archaeologists.


Greg Lowe, who is leading the project for Oxfordshire County Council, said: "The emergence of the base of the tower is fascinating and Oxford Archaeology has been analysing the structure and will report their full findings when the work is complete.


"This is a postscript that we didn't expect.


"The foundations were last exposed more than 200 years ago by the then keeper of the prison, who was a keen archaeologist.


"Since then it has been very much supposition. We did not know how close they were to the surface or anything about the configuration of the tower."


"There is a little more work to do on the site than we had originally anticipated so the work will go on for slightly longer.


"This is not something that could have been planned for until we had actually cut into the mound and put ourselves in a position to do a more detailed assessment."


Arrangements are now being made to allow visitors to see the new discovery, which may be covered up again once work is complete.


Debbie Dance, director of the Oxford Preservation Trust, which spearheaded the restoration of adjoining buildings which now house the Oxford Castle Unlocked visitor attraction, said: "This is a hugely exciting discovery.


"We are keen to be able to share this discovery with everyone and are working with the council to make this happen. We have not had a chance to talk with the archaeologists yet. But at present it looks as though the foundations will only be open temporarily and may have to be covered again."


Work on the mound will continue until the end of July - six weeks longer than was originally anticipated.


Having cut into the mound, it has been discovered that there are gaps between soil layers in areas near to where current work is taking place, increasing the risk of further slippage if not repaired.



Star watch - Archaeologists discover a “cosmic clock”


Overcrowded in their lower reaches they might be, but the Canary Islands still possess some solitary mountain wildernesses, places little visited thanks to their rugged inaccessibility, and which have hardly changed since they were frequented by the pre-colonial aboriginal islanders.


And traces of their presence are still turning up, often in the form of petroglyphs, enigmatic scratched marks on rocks and boulders which held some special significance about which we can only guess today.

The latest find is, say archaeologists, one of the most exciting. They are calling it a cosmic clock, a description guaranteed to get the imagination of any sci-fi fans racing.

But there are no flashing lights and strange dials. The reality, a piece of stone 44 centimetres high and 34 wide, would certainly disappoint them, but the experts are hailing the Summer Stone as a major discovery.

Found on the rarified heights of Cabeceras de Izcagua in La Palma, at an altitude of 2,140metres, on a site inhabited by the Awaras (as the original inhabitants of that island were called), it is thought that the stone was instrumental in calculations to mark the equinoxes. The stone has symbols of the sun facing north-east scratched upon it.

The system used depended upon the alignment of three piles of stones with a facing mountain, from behind which the spring and autumn equinoctial sun rose – and still does.

Strangely enough that mountain is still associated with sky-watching. The Roque de Los Muchachos is the site of a world famous observatory which houses one of the world’s largest telescopes.

An odd case of back to the future.   AW



Archeological Diggings on Columbus First Sighting in Cuba


After 506 years, Holguin archeologists from the Science and Environment Ministry delegation, deepen their knowledge of the "population of houses" described by Cristopher Colombus in his binnacle. The diggings took place from April 28th to May 9th as part of a project to organize the Archeological Patrimony of the Cristóbal Colón Tourist Park.


The San Antonio site assessing and excavation, east from Gibara Bay, called Rio de Oro, was the aim of this stage. Lourdes Pérez Iglesias, head of the expedition, stated that the site was sorted out as agricultural ceramists, and of great relevance. It is located 100 meters from the coastline and it is 247m long, covering an area of 19 506 square meters, rich in evidences of the life of the aboriginal inhabitants.


She declared that to one meter depth, ashes layers appeared containing plenty of remains of ceramics, and coral; hammers made of stone, and shells; bones of big sea creatures like the Manatee, and fish bones; as well as other samples proving a human steady settlement and an economy very sea-related. But it also gives further evidences to the hypothesis of this being the first meeting point between the Spaniards and local aborigins.


As stated by Colombus himself, in Bariay they had not met any inhabitants. Further proof will be to corroborate the dating using radiocarbon.

Pérez Iglesias added that the whole project will cover the area between the Sama and Gibara bays. Moving east to west archeologists have so far established ten new sites of interest.



Rubbish threatens Tuvixeddu necropolis

Richard Owen in Rome


An ancient Mediterranean necropolis described as one of the world's greatest historical sites is being submerged beneath cement, high rise housing and rubbish dumps, according to Italian conservationists.


Tuvixeddu - which means “hills with small cavities” in the Sardinian dialect - contains thousands of Phoenician and Punic burial chambers from the 6th century BC.


It has long been robbed of funerary objects but some of its tombs have retained their original paintings, including “Ureo's Tomb”, named after a sacred serpent, and “The Warrior's Tomb”, in which a decoration depicts a warrior throwing a spear.


The Sardinian government claims that, despite the site's importance, municipal authorities have allowed builders to encroach on the site to the point where “one of the most precious heritages of mankind is under threat”.


Regional officials said yesterday that they were taking the Cagliari town council to court for issuing permits for the construction of 50 six-storey blocks of flats on the very edge of the necropolis. Building work has been halted pending a ruling next week.


The council insisted that its plan included not only housing but also the creation of an “archaeological park”, as well as a museum in a former cement works. Maria Paola Morittu, of the heritage organisation Italia Nostra, said, though, that it would further alter an ancient landscape which had already suffered greatly.


Campaigners said that the plan involved not only housing, which would obliterate ancient tombs, but also a dual carriageway access road. La Republica said this would mean that Tuvixeddu would become just another traffic island in Cagliari.


Renato Soru, the Governor of Sardinia, has called for the protection of the site. The Cagliari concil said, though, that it was obliged to respect the agreements made with developers. A spokesman said allowing the flats to be built was the only way to raise enough money to protect the site and build the new museum and archaeological park.


Vincenzo Santoni, a former superintendent for archaeology in Cagliari, said that no significant finds had made at the site recently. Several dozen more tombs had been found, he added, but were all within the protected area and therefore not at risk from building work.