Most European males 'descended from farmers'
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News
Most men in Europe can trace a line of descent to early farmers who migrated from the Near East, a study says.
The research, which looked at the most common genetic lineage in European males, appears in Plos Biology.
However, other scientists subscribe to a different interpretation - that this common lineage arrived in Europe during or before the last Ice Age.
The invention of farming was one of the most important cultural changes in the history of modern humans.
There has been much debate about whether the westerly spread of agriculture from the Near East involved the large-scale migration of farmers into Europe or whether it occurred through the take-up of ideas and new technology by indigenous hunter-gatherers.
If the latter was the more important process, one would expect the large part of European male and female lineages to trace back to Palaeolithic times (between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago).
Leicester University scientists Patricia Balaresque (who is now based with the French National Centre for Scientific Research in France), Mark Jobling, Turi King and their colleagues examined the genetic diversity of the Y chromosome - a package of DNA which is passed down more or less unchanged from father to son.
Y chromosomes can be classified into different lineages (haplogroups) which, to some extent, reflect a person's geographical ancestry.
Dr Jobling, who led the research, said: "We focused on the commonest Y-chromosome lineage in Europe, carried by about 110 million men - it follows a gradient from south-east to north-west, reaching almost 100% frequency in Ireland.
"We looked at how the lineage is distributed, how diverse it is in different parts of Europe, and how old it is."
The male lineage in question, known as R1b1b2, is most common in western Europe, reaching frequencies of 90% or more in Ireland, Wales and Spain.
But while this lineage reaches its highest frequencies on the Atlantic fringe, the researchers found that the genetic diversity within it increases as one moves east - reaching a peak in Anatolia (modern Turkey).
Genetic diversity is used as a measure of age; populations or lineages that have been around for a long time tend to accumulate a lot of diversity. This principle can be used to estimate the ages of populations.
When the researchers estimated how old the R1b1b2 lineage was in different populations across Europe, the age ranges suggested it had expanded in the Neolithic (between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago).
Previous studies suggested an origin in the Palaeolithic (40,000 - 10,000 years ago). And controversies remain over how exactly to estimate the ages of Y chromosome lineages.
Studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited maternally, tell a different story. The majority of European mtDNA haplogroups appear to have arrived on the continent during the Palaeolithic.
Dr Patricia Balaresque, first author of the study, said: "In total, this means that more than 80% of European Y chromosomes descend from incoming farmers. In contrast, most maternal genetic lineages seem to descend from hunter-gatherers.
"To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting and gathering, to farming - maybe, back then, it was just sexier to be a farmer."
Studies of mtDNA have uncovered the signal of a migration undertaken by hunters from northern Iberia (Spain and Portugal) into northern Europe as the ice caps thawed some 10,000 years ago.
However, the latest study found no clear evidence of such a signal in its analysis of Europe's most common male lineage.
Dr Balaresque told BBC News: "The variance of reproductive success between males and females is completely different. If you look at a population, even now, most of the females have children, which is absolutely not the case for males.
"We estimate that about 40% of males do not leave any descendents. This means that each generation, you are losing the traces of 40% of males in that generation. The turnover for males is much higher than it is for females."
While R1b1b2 is most common in western Europe, some other lineages thought to have been brought into Europe by Neolithic farmers tend to be most frequent in the Near East, where the farmers started their journey. Their frequency in populations drops as one moves from the south-east to the north-west of the continent, the route taken by the agriculturalists.
But in their Plos Biology paper, the researchers write: "Mutations arising at the front of a wave of expansion have a high probability of surviving and being propagated, and can reach high frequencies far from their source."
The researchers from the University of Leicester collaborated with scientists from the Faculty of Medicine in Nantes, France, the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, UK, the universities of Ferrara and Pavia in Italy, Newcastle University and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK.
Stone Age amputee proves Neolithic medics more advanced than previously thought
Stone Age medicine was far more advanced than previously thought, scientists discovered, after unearthing the 7,000-year-old skeleton of a man with an amputated arm.
By Heidi Blake
Published: 4:15PM GMT 25 Jan 2010
Early Neolithic surgeons used a sharpened flint stone and rudimentary anaesthetics to amputate the elderly man’s left forearm, and treated the wound in sterile conditions, experts believe.
Evidence of the early surgery was unearthed by Cécile Buquet-Marcon and Anaick Samzun, both archaeologists, and Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist, during work on a tomb discovered at Buthiers-Boulancourt, about 40 miles south of Paris.
The man, who lived in the Linearbandkeramik period, when European hunter-gatherers began subsistence farming, was found to be missing his forearm and hand bones.
Tests showed that the humerus bone had been severed above the elbow in what scientists described as “an intentional and successful amputation”.
The patient, who is likely to have been a warrior, is thought likely to have damaged his arm in a fall, animal attack or battle.
Pain-killing plants such as the hallucinogenic Datura are likely to have been used in the operation, and the wound was probably cleaned using antiseptic herbs like sage, the scientists said.
“I don’t think you could say that those who carried out the operation were doctors in the modern sense that they did only that, but they obviously had medical knowledge,” Mrs Buquet-Marcon said.
Researchers have also recently reported signs of two other Neolithic amputations in Germany and the Czech Republic.
Stone Age doctors were previously known to have performed trephinations, making incisions in the skull, but not amputations.
Ancient seed sprouts plant from the past
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
A 4,000-year-old lentil seed found during an archeological excavation has germinated, exciting scientists as the event might lead to invaluable data for comparisons between the organic and genetically engineered plants of today. ‘It would be the first seed from very old times whose genes were never modified,’ say the scientists.
A 4,000-year-old lentil seed unearthed in an archeological excavation has successfully sprouted after being planted.
Project leader and Dumlupınar University archeology faculty Professor Nejat Bilgen said they found the seeds during an excavation undertaken last year in Kütahya province.
Bilgen said a layer from the container in which they found the seeds was determined to be from the middle bronze age.
He said his team found many seeds, but most had been burnt, adding that they had failed to make the others turn green before the recent success. The excavation team believes they found a silo because there were many other containers around.
“A seed dug from underground and dating back approximately 4,000 years sprouted. The plant that came out of this seed is under examination and will be presented to the scientific community [so they can] make various analyses over it,” Bilgen said.
Nükhet Bingöl, an assistant professor from the same department, said she planted one of the seeds last year but that it dried up after germinating, adding that she sent another to Istanbul for fat analyses.
Bingöl said she planted the present seed three months ago before it successfully germinated. “Scientifically, we are still at the beginning,” said Bingöl, who explained that the age of the seed needs to be determined and compared to the lentils of today.
“Although [the seed] was found in an archeological excavation, we should prove it scientifically. We should look into whether those seeds came from outside [the container] or not,” she said.
Bingöl said the lentil is pretty weak – unlike its modern day versions – yet they hope it will be able to flower and produce seeds. If that happens, according to Bingöl, they would have extremely important data to compare with the organic and genetically engineered plants of today. “It would be the first seed from very old times whose genetics were never modified.”
Bingöl said the lentil is a plant that does not require much water and heat to grow, so it is very likely that they were planted near the excavation area. “Barley, lentil, wheat, all of these originated in Anatolia,” said Bingöl.
“That is why finding this seed was not a surprise for us but finding it alive was. This is caused by the structure of the [container’s] mold. A fire broke the mold, it collapsed and so [some] of the seeds were able to stay alive,” she said.
If the plant produces seeds, they would be genetically unmodified original seeds, she said. “Original seeds are always weaker than others. Maybe it would not offer much benefit to the country’s economy but we would be pioneering for other work in universities on collecting old seeds.”
Bingöl said there are domestic and foreign examples of centuries-old plants germinating, adding that Japan’s magnolia plant has different qualities than today’s magnolia plant in other parts of the world.
Egyptian cat deity's 2,200-year-old temple unearthed in Alexandria
Associated Press in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 January 2010 18.06 GMT
A 2,200-year-old temple that may have been dedicated to the ancient Egyptian cat godess Bastet has been unearthed in Alexandria, the Supreme Council of Antiquities said today.
The ruins of the Ptolemaic-era building were discovered by Egyptian archaeologists in the port city founded by Alexander the Great around 331BC. Alexandria was the seat of the Greek-speaking Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt for 300 years until the suicide of Queen Cleopatra.
The council's statement said the temple was thought to belong to Queen Berenice II, wife of Ptolemy III who ruled between 246BC–222BC.
Mohammed Abdel-Maqsood, the Egyptian archaeologist who led the excavation team, said the discovery may be the first trace of the long-sought location of Alexandria's royal quarter.
The large number of statues depicting Bastet (also known as Bast) found in the ruins, he said, suggested that this may be the first Ptolemaic-era temple dedicated to the cat godess to be discovered in Alexandria. This would indicate that the worship of the ancient Egyptian deity continued during the later, Greek-influenced, Ptolemaic period
Statues of other ancient Egyptian deities were also found in the ruins, he added.
Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist, said the temple may have been used in later times as a quarry as evidenced by the large number of missing stone blocks.
The temple was found in the Kom el-Dekka area near the modern city's main train station and home to a Roman-era amphitheatre and well-preserved mosaics.
• This article was amended on 22 January 2009. The original implied that Bastet/Bast was a male deity. This has been corrected.
Chemical analyses uncover secrets of an ancient amphora
Public release date: 20-Jan-2010
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology
A team of chemists from the University of Valencia (UV) has confirmed that the substance used to hermetically seal an amphora found among remains at Lixus, in Morocco, was pine resin. The scientists also studied the metallic fragments inside the 2,000-year-old vessel, which could be fragments of material used for iron-working.
In 2005, a group of archaeologists from the UV discovered a sealed amphora among the remains at Lixus, an ancient settlement founded by the Phoenicians near Larache, in Morocco. Since then, researchers from the Department of Analytical Chemistry at this university have been carrying out various studies into it components.
The latest study, published recently in the journal Analytical Letters, focuses on the resinous material that sealed the vessel. There are remains of a circular rope-effect decoration around the mouth of the amphora, and on which some fingerprints of the craftsman who moulded it can still be seen. It would probably have been sealed with a lid of cork or wood, of which nothing remains, possibly including a ceramic operculum, such as those found nearby.
"We have studied the substance that was used to seal the container using three different techniques, and we compared it with pine resin from today", José Vicente Gimeno, one of the authors of the study and a senior professor at the UV, tells SINC.
The results confirm that the small sample analysed, which is 2,000 years old, contains therpenic organic compounds (primaric, isoprimaric and dehydroabietic acids), allowing this to be classified as resin from a tree from the Pinus genus.
The researchers have identified some substances that indicate the age of resins, such as such as 7-oxo-DHA acid, although this kind of compound was not abundant in the sample due to the amphora's good state of preservation. In addition, Gimeno says that the archaeological resin of the amphora found was hard and blackish with yellow spots, unlike present-day resin, which is more malleable and orangey in colour, similar to the fresh sap of the tree.
"The jar was found in an area that must have been the amphora store of a house from the period between 50 BCE and 10 CE", Carmen Aranegui, coordinator of the excavations at Lixus and also a senior professor at the UV, tells SINC.
The archaeologist, who has been working at the site for the past 15 years with the Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine of Rabat, says the amphora is Italic, probably from the region of Campania. It is currently being housed in the archaeological warehouse at Larache. These jars were used as containers for wine or salted products, but after serving this purpose they could be re-used as watertight storage containers. The amphora found contains metallic fragments, and the scientists have analysed these too.
According to the experts, it is likely that this vessel was undergoing a second use, protecting pieces of iron from corrosion, so that they could later be used in the iron-forging process in a local foundry at the time.
Not far from this amphora, another has been found at Lixus bearing the mark in Latin 'A.MISE', which is the name of the person who made the jar, and has also been found on another similar one found in Cadiz, Spain. "This was a period when there was great contact between these two cities on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar", points out Aranegui.
J. Peris-Vicente, F. M. Valle-Algarra, M. A. Ferrer-Eres, J. V. Gimeno-Adelantado, L. Osete-Cortina, M. T. Doménech-Carbó, R. Mateo-Castro y M. D. Soriano-Pińol. "Analytical Study of a Resinous Material Used as Sealing in Ancient Pottery Found in an Archaeological Site by Thermally Assisted Hydrolysis Methylation–Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry, Vibrational Spectroscopy and Light Microscopy". Analytical Letters 42 (16): 2637�, 2009.
Secrets of Roman aqueduct lie in chapel, say UK film-makers
Source for emperor Trajan's Aqua Traiana arose from aquifer at site used to worship water spirits, say O'Neill brothers
John Hooper in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 January 2010 19.50 GMT
For almost four centuries scholars have sought the headwaters of the Aqua Traiana, a stone channel which carried spring water down to Rome from near Lake Bracciano. Now, two British film-makers say they have beaten the archaeologists in discovering the source of the water feeding the ancient city's greatest aqueducts.
While researching films on Roman aqueducts, Mike and Ted O'Neill got access last year to a series of reservoirs and tunnels below a long-abandoned medieval chapel near the town of Bracciano.
Local people believed the complex was created in late Renaissance times. But Ted O'Neill, 37, who has made a study of ancient hydraulic engineering, said he was struck by the criss-cross patterned wall facing of the tunnels. "It is known as opus reticulatum. And opus reticulatum says 'I am [ancient] Roman'," he said.
The London-born brothers took Italy's leading authority on classical aqueducts to the site. Prof Lorenzo Quilici, of Bologna University, said yesterday: "It is a truly exceptional discovery. There is no doubt that the construction techniques used are ancient Roman."
Quilici said the abandoned chapel, known as the Madonna of the Flower, was originally a nymphaeum, a place dedicated to the water spirits of classical mythology. "On either side it widens into two basins that are roofed with quite extraordinary vaults, still decorated with Egyptian blue [calcium copper silicate] paint," said Quilici.
Prof Allan Ceen, of Pennsylvania State University, said of the site: "It is so richly decorated the emperor almost certainly came here for the inauguration of the aqueduct." That was in AD 109, under the emperor Trajan, 19 centuries before its rediscovery. To celebrate the event a fountain was built on Janiculum hill where the aqueduct entered the city. A coin was minted showing a god atop tumbling water, reclining under a broad arch. It had been assumed the arch belonged to the fountain. But the O'Neill brothers believe the coin depicts the nymphaeum, a theory Quilici thinks should be taken seriously.
Not the least important aspect of the complex is that the water, which came from an aquifer, seeped into the reservoirs on either side of the nymphaeum through bricks laid with gaps between them. "It was a filter," said Quilici.
The original Aqua Traiana, one of Rome's 11 great aqueducts, snaked around Lake Bracciano collecting water from other springs before heading south. At the entry point to the ancient city the aqueduct fell steeply down Janiculum hill, the water powering a chain of flour mills.
The aqueduct continued to be used into the 20th century. But under Pope Paul V (1605-21), the headwaters were dispensed with and the water supply came from Lake Bracciano instead.
The water from the aquifer under the Madonna of the Flower chapel was diverted to Bracciano, and today still supplies the town. The complex is now part of a pig farm whose owners use the old nymphaeum as a rubbish tip. Tree roots are pushing through the Egyptian blue decoration. "The chapel and aqueduct are in danger of crumbling. They desperately need to be restored," said Ted O'Neill.
Wreck of Roman ship Asterix could return to Guernsey
A 1,700 year-old ship wreck could be returned to Guernsey if funding can be found, after undergoing preservation work since it was raised in 1985.
The Asterix was found by local diver Richard Keen in St Peter Port harbour in 1982, where it had lay since 280.
The timbers were taken to the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth for immersion in wax and freeze drying.
Guernsey Museum Service said money is needed to pay for somewhere to store and display the ship.
The Asterix was destroyed by fire and sunk in the 3rd Century where the entrance to St Peter Port harbour was later established.
The museum service has said it hopes to bring the wreck, measuring 18m (60ft), back to the island for a permanent display.
Remains of Alfred the Great's granddaughter returned
• Tests expected to confirm woman lived in England
• Princess sent to Germany as diplomatic prize
The Guardian, Wednesday 20 January 2010
The granddaughter of Alfred the Great came back to England yesterday – or at least fragments of a body returned, more than 1,000 years after the Wessex princess was packed off by her brother as a diplomatic gift to a Saxon king.
Tests in Bristol are expected to provide further proof that Eadgyth (roughly pronounced Edith) was indeed the woman found wrapped in silk and sealed in a lead coffin, inside a magnificent stone sarcophagus at Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany.
"Her brother Athelstan was the first king of a unified England, her husband became the first Holy Roman Emperor and her blood runs in the veins of every royal family in Europe," said Professor Mark Horton of Bristol University.
"Alfred's body disappeared long ago, bones of other members of her family are all jumbled up in Winchester Cathedral after [Thomas] Cromwell got his hands on them, so this may prove to be the oldest complete remains of an English royal."
There is no contemporary portrait of Eadgyth and few insights into her life. She was born in Wessex in 910 into one of the most powerful families in England, daughter of Edward the Elder, and half-sister to Athelstan, well on his way to being recognised as the first king of all England.
In 929 he sent her and her sister, Adiva, off to Otto and invited him to take his pick, sealing an alliance between two of the rising stars of the Saxon world: Otto chose Eadgyth. They had at least two children before she died in 946.
She was devoted to the cult of Saint Oswald, the 7th-century warrior king of Northumbria, and a scattering of monasteries and churches dedicated to St Oswald in Saxony may also map Eadgyth's lasting influence.
The monument in the soaring Gothic cathedral built centuries after her death was known as her tomb, but historians believed it was empty.
Then in 2008 it was opened by archaeologists during work on the building, revealing to their astonishment the beautifully preserved coffin. An inscription recorded that it was the body of Eadgyth, reburied in 1510.
"We know she was reburied," Horton said, "but the sarcophagus could have held nothing at all, or a few bits and pieces scooped up from roughly the area of her original grave. Instead we have the remains of one woman, of the right age. The smoking gun is what the tests tell us of where she came from." He hopes isotope tests on enamel from her teeth, and tests on bone fragments, will reveal a woman born and brought up in Wessex and Mercia, where her family moved between different palaces and strongholds. The water drunk or contained in food eaten in childhood laid distinctive traces which last for life and centuries beyond. Scientists will be measuring the bone and teeth fragments looking for strontium and oxygen isotopes which if strong enough should locate precisely the princess's first years.
The sarcophagus also held soil fragments and beetles, all being studied with the silk and the coffin itself by scientists, archaeologists and art historians, hoping to tease out more details of Eadgyth's history in life and death. Initial results are being presented at an international conference at Bristol University today.
Eadgyth's bones are believed to have been moved at least once before being reinterred in Magdeburg Cathedral in 1510.
The project to study them was led in Germany by Professor Harald Heller of the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte in Saxony-Anhalt. He said: "We are still not completely certain that this is Eadgyth, although all the scientific evidence points to this interpretation. In the Middle Ages bones were often moved about, and this makes definitive identification difficult."Other members of her family have proved remarkably elusive. Her spurned sister Adiva was later married off to another European ruler but the place of her death and burial are unknown and indeed the identity of her husband is uncertain.
Athelstan was buried at Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire. A tomb believed to be his survives, but there is no record of it being opened in centuries, and it is thought most probably to be empty.
Excavations were mounted some years ago in Winchester to find Alfred but although quantities of stonework were uncovered from the lost Hyde Abbey no trace of him was found.
Mass tomb found under chapel
22 January 2010
By Ross Robertson
Undergound burial vaults containing human remains have been found under a development site in Sunderland.
Long-forgotten chambers below Villiers Street, in Sunniside, were discovered under a former Sunday school building – being demolished as part of the area's regeneration.
A number of the vaults are bricked up and it is not yet clear how many skeletons are in the chambers, though interment records show 409 people were buried at the site.
Archaeologists are busy documenting the rare find before the remains are removed and sent away for analysis.
The bones will be reburied in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery and the crypt will be filled in.
The work has been organised by Sunderland arc and the Sunniside Partnership.
Ben Hall, director of Sunniside Partnership, said: "The excavation of this site is an extremely sensitive process, which is why specialist archaeologists have been appointed.
"They are investigating all the material underneath the building and while this work is carried out the site has been screened, sealed and secured for health and safety reasons."
Matthew Town, project manager from contractor North Pennines Archaeology, said: "The work presents a rare opportunity to learn more about the lifestyles of people in 19th-century Sunderland."
The Sunday school building, part of a non-conformist Bethel chapel, was built around 1817 and extended in 1826, when the burial vaults were built north of the church.
The chapel building was demolished in 1978, leaving behind the Sunday school – and the hidden vaults.
The chambers were first uncovered when the building, most recently a garage, was being broken up by contractors.
The site has been earmarked for family housing, but independent councillor and heritage campaigner Peter Maddison and Arnie Sneddon, a history buff from Villiers Street, want to see the vaults left intact.
Mr Sneddon said a glass roof should be installed to allow people to see into the brickwork chambers.
Coun Maddison said: "Sunderland has a fantastic history and we have a duty to preserve it."
But Liz Hughes, senior project manager of owners, Sunniside Partnership, said there was no safe access to the chambers and it was not practical to keep the chambers as they are.
Archaeologists are on site until March and because human remains are involved the team had to get permission to go ahead from the Ministry of Justice.
The Sunniside Partnership and One North East say they are working with Sunderland City Council, archaeologists, English Heritage and Tyne & Wear Archaeology to ensure the project is handled with the utmost professionalism, care and respect.