Native Americans Descended From a Single Ancestral Group, DNA Study Confirms

April 28, 2009


For two decades, researchers have been using a growing volume of genetic data to debate whether ancestors of Native Americans emigrated to the New World in one wave or successive waves, or from one ancestral Asian population or a number of different populations.


Now, after painstakingly comparing DNA samples from people in dozens of modern-day Native American and Eurasian groups, an international team of scientists thinks it can put the matter to rest: Virtually without exception the new evidence supports the single ancestral population theory.


“Our work provides strong evidence that, in general, Native Americans are more closely related to each other than to any other existing Asian populations, except those that live at the very edge of the Bering Strait,” said Kari Britt Schroeder, a lecturer at the University of California, Davis, and the first author on the paper describing the study.


“While earlier studies have already supported this conclusion, what’s different about our work is that it provides the first solid data that simply cannot be reconciled with multiple ancestral populations,” said Schroeder, who was a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the university when she did the research.


The study is published in the May issue of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.


The team’s work follows up on earlier studies by several of its members who found a unique variant (an allele) of a genetic marker in the DNA of modern-day Native American people. Dubbed the “9-repeat allele,” the variant (which does not have a biological function), occurred in all of the 41 populations that they sampled from Alaska to the southern tip of Chile, as well as in Inuit from Greenland and the Chukchi and Koryak people native to the Asian (western) side of the Bering Strait. Yet this allele was absent in all 54 of the Eurasian, African and Oceanian groups the team sampled.


Overall, among the 908 people who were in the 44 groups in which the allele was found, more than one out of three had the variant.


In these earlier studies, the researchers concluded that the most straightforward explanation for the distribution of the 9-repeat allele was that all modern Native Americans, Greenlanders and western Beringians descend from a common founding population. Furthermore, the fact that the allele was absent in other Asian populations most likely meant that America’s ancestral founders had been isolated from the rest of Asia for thousands of years before they moved into the New World: that is, for a period of time that was long enough to allow the allele to originate in, and spread throughout, the isolated population.


As strong as this evidence was, however, it was not foolproof. There were two other plausible explanations for the widespread distribution of the allele in the Americas.


If the 9-repeat allele had arisen as a mutation multiple times, its presence throughout the Americas would not indicate shared ancestry. Alternatively, if there had been two or more different ancestral founding groups and only one of them had carried the 9-repeat allele, certain circumstances could have prompted it to cross into the other groups and become widespread. Say that there was a second allele — one situated very close to the 9-repeat allele on the DNA strand — that conferred a strong advantage to humans who carried it. Natural selection would carry this allele into new populations and because of the mechanics of inheritance, long stretches of DNA surrounding it, including the functionless 9-repeat allele, would be carried along with the beneficial allele.


To rule out these possibilities, the research team, which was headed by Noah Rosenberg at the University of Michigan, scrutinized DNA samples of people from 31 modern-day Asian populations, 19 Native American, one Greenlandic and two western Beringian populations.


They found that in each sample that contained the 9-repeat allele, short stretches of DNA on either side of it were characterized by a distinct pattern of base pairs, a pattern they seldom observed in people without the allele. “If natural selection had promoted the spread of a neighboring advantageous allele, we would expect to see longer stretches of DNA than this with a similarly distinct pattern,” Schroeder said. “And we would also have expected to see the pattern in a high frequency even among people who do not carry the 9-repeat allele. So we can now consider the positive selection possibility unlikely.”


The results also ruled out the multiple mutations hypothesis. If that had been the case, there would have been myriad DNA patterns surrounding the allele rather than the identical characteristic signature the team discovered.


“There are a number of really strong papers based on mitochondrial DNA — which is passed from mother to daughter — and Y-chromosome DNA — which is passed from father to son — that have also supported a single ancestral population,” Schroeder said. “But this is the first definitive evidence we have that comes from DNA that is carried by both sexes.”


Other authors of the study are David G. Smith, a professor of anthropology at UC Davis; Mattias Jacobsson, University of Michigan and Uppsala University in Sweden; Michael H. Crawford, University of Kansas; Theodore Schurr, University of Pennsylvania; Simina Boca, Johns Hopkins University; Donald F. Conrad and Jonathan Pritchard, University of Chicago; Raul Tito and Ripan Malhi, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Ludmilla Osipova, Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk; Larissa Tarskaia, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow; Sergey Zhadanov, University of Pennsylvania and Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk; and Jeffrey D. Wall, UC San Francisco.


The work was supported by NIH grants to Rosenberg and Smith and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to Schroeder.

About UC Davis


For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science — and advanced degrees from six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Media contact(s):


    * Kari Schroeder, Anthropology, (650) 387-3993, kbschroeder@ucdavis.edu

    * Liese Greensfelder, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-6101, lgreensfelder@ucdavis.edu



Airport dig yields new anthropological discovery

Thursday, 30 April 2009

By Marla Dalrymple & Tony Wheeler

Staff Writers


A significant historical discovery was made last week when archaeologists at the site of the proposed Macon County Airport runway extension discovered two palisaded villages, circa 1100 A.D.


“We had no idea there were palisaded villages in 1100 A.D.,” said Tasha Benyshek, senior archaeologist on the project with TRC Solutions.


Benyshek has been working at the site for several weeks, removing top soil and performing preliminary mapping of archaeological features. Her crew was hired to perform artifact removal and data recovery on a portion of the area slated for a runway extension.


The Macon County Airport is located in Iotla Valley on property that was once apparently home to several native peoples. Artifacts found on site date back as early as 2000 B.C., said Benyshek.


Two areas that were opened last week revealed features including post holes encircling structures.


The evidence suggests that vertical fences were used to fortify homesteads nearly one thousand years ago.


Benyshek called the discovery a rare find, citing few instances where such palisades were ever documented. “It’s a little known time period,” she said. “There are so many posts and features in that area.”


Most of what the archaeological crew has come across at the site dates to the Woodland Period, 500 A.D. Structures, storage and cooking pits have all been found.


Two palisaded villages date to 1100 A.D. complete with structures. The next period evidenced on the property is the Middle Qualla period, 1600-1750 A.D, with structures and pit features.


The crew will start systematically documenting structures and excavating pit features. “It is so dense,” said Benyshek, “it will take time. There’s quite a bit to do.”


The information gleaned will help scientists understand how people lived thousands of years ago. Benyshek said it will be interesting to learn if people lived in individual farmsteads, villages or compact villages during the different time periods.


The settlement patterns have been especially enlightening at the Iotla site, she said, providing vital clues about how villages were set up.


The two fortified villages, said Benyshek, were probably meant to keep people safe from something. “During some time periods, people felt the need to close themselves in,” said Benyshek.


Evidence can also provide clues to what people ate, what tools they used and what activities they participated in.


“It will be interesting to see what else evolves,” said Benyshek of the site.


The runway extension has been a source of controversy as some area residents have voiced concern over the historical and cultural significance of the site at county meetings.


Officials involved have stated that the extension will not only improve airport safety but may also help bring jobs to the area.


Cowee resident and Wild- South Cultural Heritage Director Lamar Marshall said that the new discovery substantiates the claims that the significance of the site was “glossed over” by agencies such as the State Historic Preservation Office, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Macon County Airport Authority.


“The airport expansion is a gross violation of taxpayer trust, a waste of taxpayer money for special interests, a slap in the face to the Cherokee Nation and their dead that are buried there, and a tragedy for the families and property owners of the Iotla Community,” said Marshall. “There appears to be a trail of special interests that could lead back to elite entities that will benefit from this ridiculous example of corporate welfare.”


Marshall has contacted an attorney on the grounds that violations have already occurred in regard to the extension and its preparations. Marshall said, “The people of Macon County and the Cherokee Nation will not be steamrolled without a fight.”



China's earliest known carving found in central Henan Province

www.chinaview.cn 2009-04-28 19:23:38


ZHENGZHOU, April 28 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists say they have identified the country's earliest known carving -- a deer antler sculpted into the shape of a bird -- dating back 12,000 to 15,000 years.


The fossilized grey figurine, which is 2.1 centimeters long, 1.2 centimeters high and 0.6 centimeters thick, was found in Xuchang County in China's central Henan Province in March.


It is made from evenly-heated antler, and vividly carved with amicrolithic cutting tool.


"The carving technique is more exquisite than the western carvings of its time," said Li Zhanyang, head of the archeological team in Xuchang, and a researcher with the Henan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology.


Carvings of the late Paleolithic Age have been found in western countries, such as 30,000-year-old ivory horse and mammoth carvings at Vogelherd Cave in Germany, and human profile carvings at a cave in La Marche, France, that are about 10,000 years old.


The bird figurine was unique in its feet that were carved with symmetrical sockets that enable it to stand stably, said Li. "This demonstrates that human beings already had a good grip of the equilibrium principal then."


Li said the bird carving might have been left by hunters when they were very active in Henan Province around the Last Glacial Maximum period, which started about 25,000 years ago. It could have been a totem to represent good luck and freedom.


If the bird carving could be exactly dated, it would provide important background for the research on the techniques, aesthetic and expression, as well as inter-regional migration and communication of human beings of that time, said Gao Xing, head of National Natural Science Foundation of China.


The bird carving is not the first find at that site. In 2007 and2008, Chinese archaeologists announced that they found more than 30,000 relics in Xuchang, including human skull fossils dating back 80,000 to 100,000 years.


The ancient skull was named Xuchang Man after the location. Scientists said the discovery was expected to provide direct evidence for the origins of modern Chinese and East Asian human species.



"Dark Age" Temple Found in Turkey

Mati Milstein for National Geographic News

April 29, 2009


An ancient temple in Turkey has been found filled with broken metal, ivory carvings, and stone slabs engraved with a dead language.


The find is casting new light on the "dark age" that was thought to have engulfed the region from 1200 to 900 B.C.


Written sources from the era—including the Old Testament of the Bible, Greek Homeric epics, and texts from Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III—record the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age as a turbulent period of cultural collapse, famine, and violence.


But the newfound temple suggests that may not have been the case, say archaeologists from the University of Toronto's Tayinat Archaeological Project, led by Timothy Harrison.


"We're beginning to find new archaeological evidence that there was a continuation of writing traditions, as well as cultural and political continuity from the Bronze Age into this Iron Age period," Harrison said.


"We are filling in a cultural and a political history of this era."


Harrison and colleagues found the temple in 2008 at the Tell Ta'yinat site, an archaeological settlement on the Plain of Antioch in southeastern Turkey.


The site, near the present-day Syrian border, served as a major cultural crossroads for thousands of years.


The temple appears to have been built during the time of King Solomon, between the 10th and 9th centuries B.C. It was likely destroyed with the rest of Tell Ta'yinat during the 8th century B.C.


Researchers initially examined the remains of the temple's southern entrance, which includes a stone-paved courtyard, a wide staircase, and a doorway once supported by an ornately carved column.


The team also found the smashed remains of massive stelae—commemorative stone slabs—carved with hieroglyphs in Luwian, an extinct language once spoken throughout what is now Turkey.


The temple's main room was long ago damaged by fire, but it was found littered with the remains of bronze and ivory wall or furniture fittings, along with gold and silver foil and the carved eye inlay from a human figurine.


Although excavations have yet to reach the earliest parts of the temple, researchers plan to continue digging this summer in the hopes of finding the temple's inner sanctuary.


Harrison believes the Tayinat temple might provide scholars with new evidence to help them understand similarly constructed temples from the same time period, as well as the temple rituals of the day.


"The textual record has very much informed our perception of the past," noted Gunnar Lehmann, an archaeologist with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, who was not involved in the find.


"But there is now increasing archaeological evidence for a complex scenario of considerable cultural and political continuation and innovations during this [dark age] period."



Roman glass dish found in grave


A rare Roman millefiori dish has been unearthed by archaeologists from the grave of a wealthy Londoner.


The dish, which has gone on display at the Museum of London in Docklands, was found during excavations in Prescot Street, in Aldgate, east London.


It was pieced together from its many fragments.


It is made up of hundreds of translucent blue indented glass petals, bordered with white embedded in a bright red glass background.


Other ceramic and glass vessels were also ranged along the sides of the casket.


Liz Goodman, Museum of London archaeology conservator, said: "Piecing together and conserving such a complete artefact offered a rare and thrilling challenge.


"We occasionally get tiny fragments of millefiori, but the opportunity to work on a whole artefact of this nature is extraordinary.


She said the dish is extremely fragile but the glasswork is intact and illuminates nearly two millennia after being crafted.


The dish formed part of the grave goods of the Roman Londoner whose cremated remains were uncovered in a container in a cemetery in Londinium's (the Roman name for London) eastern quarter.


Archaeologists believe its complexity means it was a highly-prized and valuable item.


Glass experts say it is the first time such a complete dish has been found outside the eastern Roman empire.


Millefiori means "one thousand flowers" and is a glass working technique using glass rods with multi-coloured patterns that are only visible at the cut ends.


The name of the Roman Londoner whose grave the fragments were found in has not been revealed.



Bone find shows early amputations

by Clare Babbidge

BBC News


Bones found at a former hospital in Worcestershire show evidence of early amputations and other medical research, say archaeologists.


County council archaeologists were called in after workers building the new city university campus found about 200 bone pieces in a pit at the former Worcester Royal Infirmary site.


Simon Sworn, archaeologist and project officer, said many of the 19th Century bones had been deliberately cut and were "evidence of amputations in their infancy".


The British Medical Research Association (BMA) was founded in the hospital in 1832 and Mr Sworn believes the bones from dead prisoners were among those used for research after this became legal practice.


Mr Sworn said the bones were a rare find.


"It's a very fascinating and important find and appears to show a great deal about early medical practice," he said.


Worcestershire County Council said its archaeologists were immediately called in after the discovery to "make sure the remains were treated appropriately".


The bones, which were removed under a Home Office licence, are being stored and preserved at the council offices and will be sent to a specialist who is expected to report on their significance.


"The remains are likely to be studied by experts in the history of surgery before reburial," a county council spokeswoman said.


Workers found letters and invitations to nurses at the site


Worcester University said work at the site had also revealed the entrance to a tunnel linking the infirmary with the old city gaol.


Mr Sworn said an Act of Parliament in the mid-19th Century permitted research on dead prisoners, so bones of former inmates could be among those found.


He said: "It could be criminals or it could be poor people who could not be identified and had no family," he said.


Mr Sworn said the bones were from many individuals and included arm and leg bones and fragments of skull and vertebrae.


"They do indicate early anatomical investigations, when people were first dissecting human remains," he said.


"There's evidence of research into varying diseases, such as syphilis, which was widespread at the time. There are bones that have been cut into where the disease had taken hold."


He said the bones could be linked to the work of Sir Charles Hastings, a medical surgeon and founder of the BMA.


Mr Sworn added there were also animal bones, including those of pigs, found in the pit.


"Some have several saw marks, as if the students had practiced amputations on the animals' bones first," he said.


The bones include a hip joint punctured by a nail which Mr Sworn said could be evidence of an early hip replacement operation.


Worcester University said discoveries "charting more than 1,700 years" had been found at the site since last year, including Roman pottery and 1940s dance invitations to nurses.


"The university is keen to ensure the history of this important part of the City is fully recorded and has been working closely with the county council's archaeologists," a spokeswoman said.


Its new £100m city campus was "progressing well" and two new halls of residence were set to open in September, she added.



Ancient medieval buildings found beneath Cathedral Square


Archaeologists excavating beneath Cathedral Square in Peterborough have found the remains of ancient medieval buildings.


One of the buildings, which probably stood until the 17th Century, may be part of the old Butter Cross – a building in the market place where butter, eggs and meat were sold.


Up to six archaeologists a day have been working on the site for several weeks in preparation for the main square improvement works, which are being delivered by Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough City Council.


City archaeologist Ben Robinson said: “The results so far are outstanding. We expected to find archaeological remains in Cathedral Square, but the range and quality of finds here is superb. The archaeological team is tracing the previously unrecorded history of Peterborough’s ancient market place – literally peeling back the centuries to expose the surfaces and structures that would have been familiar to medieval citizens’.


Beneath the modern pavement is a series of pitched limestone surfaces that were the market place, streets and gutters of earlier times.


Pieces of pottery, leather off-cuts, building materials, part of a bronze cauldron and animal remains dating back hundreds of years have also been uncovered.


The Cathedral Square improvement works to revitalise the heart of the city centre started in February. The project includes demolishing the Corn Exchange and creating a new square, dubbed St John’s Square, as well as removing the planters, underground toilets and road surface in Cathedral Square and replacing them with fountains and seating areas.


The excavations are being led by Steve Morris of Northamptonshire Archaeology. Senior project officer Adam Yates said: “It’s not often we get a chance to dig holes in the middle of town. Our finds are significant in the development of Peterborough because there have been very few excavations in the historic core. We are carefully excavating and recording the remains that will be affected by the development.”


Construction work in the Cathedral Square area is still aiming to be complete by Christmas while work to create the new square will continue until Easter 2010.


Steve Bowyer, director of growth at Opportunity Peterborough, said: “The project to improve Cathedral Square is a crucial investment for revitalising the city centre and taking it forward to a brighter future. The archaeology we have found has provided a great insight into the city’s past that we would not have had without this project. Wherever possible we will adjust designs to ensure that the archaeology is protected as we deliver the scheme.”


Shops surrounding the development will stay open throughout the construction, which - when complete – aims to attract new businesses to open and drive economic activity to the area.