Neandertal genome yields evidence of interbreeding with humans

After years of looking, geneticists are shocked to find a link

By Tina Hesman Saey Web edition : Thursday, May 6th, 2010   


Some people don’t just have a caveman mentality; they may actually carry a little relic of the Stone Age in their DNA.


A new study of the Neandertal genome shows that humans and Neandertals interbred. The discovery comes as a big surprise to researchers who have been searching for genetic evidence of human-Neandertal interbreeding for years and finding none.


About 1 percent to 4 percent of DNA in modern people from Europe and Asia was inherited from Neandertals, researchers report in the May 7 Science. “It’s a small, but very real proportion of our ancestry,” says study coauthor David Reich of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. Comparisons of the human and Neandertal genomes are also revealing how humans evolved to become the sole living hominid species on the planet.


Neandertals lived in Europe, the Middle East and western Asia until they disappeared about 30,000 years ago. The new data indicate that humans may not have replaced Neandertals, but assimilated them into the human gene pool.


“Neandertals are not totally extinct; they live on in some of us,” says Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and leader of the Neandertal genome project.


He and other geneticists involved in the effort to compile the complete genetic instruction book of Neandertals didn’t expect to find that Neandertals had left a genetic legacy. Earlier analyses that looked at only a small part of the genome had contradicted the notion that humans and Neandertals intermixed (SN Online: 8/7/08).


“We as a consortium came into this with a very, very strong bias against gene flow,” Reich says. In fact, when he and his colleagues announced the completion of a rough draft of the Neandertal genome a year ago, the researchers said such genetic exchange was unlikely (SN: 3/14/09, p. 5).


But several independent lines of evidence now convince the researchers that humans and Neandertals did interbreed. “The breakthrough here is to show that it could happen and it did happen,” Pääbo says.


The result came as no surprise to some scientists, however. Archaeologists have described ancient skeletons from Europe that had characteristics of both early modern humans and Neandertals; evidence, the researchers say, of interbreeding between the two groups. But until the cataloging of the entire Neanderthal genome, genetic studies could find no evidence to support the idea.


“After all these years the geneticists are coming to the same conclusions that some of us in the field of archaeology and human paleontology have had for a long time,” says João Zilhão, an archaeologist and paleoanthropologist at the University of Bristol in England. “What can I say? If the geneticists come to this same conclusion, that’s to be expected.”


Researchers recreated the Neandertal’s genetic blueprints using DNA extracted from three bone fragments — each from a different Neandertal woman — found in a cave in Croatia.


Comparing the resulting blueprints of the female Neandertals, who lived about 40,000 years ago, with those of five present-day humans from China, France, Papua New Guinea and southern and western Africa, revealed that people outside of Africa carry Neandertal DNA.


Scientists were surprised to find that people from China and Papua New Guinea (places where Neandertals never lived) have just as much Neandertal ancestry as people from France. The group did not find traces of Neandertal heritage in the two African people studied. The result probably means that interbreeding between Neandertals and humans took place about 50,000 to 80,000 years ago in the Middle East as humans began migrating out of Africa to colonize the rest of the world, Reich says.


It is not clear how extensive interbreeding was; the data are consistent with either a short period with a great deal of interbreeding or with a long period of little interbreeding, says Richard E. (Ed) Green, a genome biologist now at the University of California Santa Cruz and a coauthor of the new study.


Comparison of the Neandertal genome to human and chimpanzee genetic sequences have led to some clues about recent human evolution. Neandertals “were not genetically very distinct from us,” says Pääbo. For example, the researchers were able to find only 78 proteins in which humans carry a different amino acid than is found in Neandertals and chimpanzees. That means that few changes in proteins have taken place in the past few hundred thousand years of human evolution. Researchers don’t know yet whether the changes in the proteins alter their function or give humans some survival advantage.


But some parts of the human genome clearly do produce an evolutionary advantage, the researchers say. Again, the team compared the human genome to those of Neandertals and chimpanzees and identified places where humans differ. If nothing of importance had happened in human evolution since humans and Neandertals diverged, such changes would be spread evenly across the genome, Green says. Instead, the researchers found large swaths of the genome where humans have distinct changes not found in Neandertals or chimpanzees. The team identified 212 such regions where “selective sweeps” were likely to have happened, many of which include genes involved in brain function. The researchers don’t yet know what the changes are or how they produce a selective advantage.


“These data are really a goldmine for understanding recent human evolution,” Green says.


Since humans and Neandertals could interbreed, some people question whether the two groups are different hominid species. The question doesn’t hold interest for John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Genealogically, he says, the new study shows that many humans had a Neandertal great-great-great-great … grandfather.  “It’s impossible to talk about them as ‘them’ anymore,” he says. “Neandertals are us.”



1,000 ancient rock paintings found in east-central China

16:13, May 06, 2010     


There are more than 500 small craters of different sizes on the surface of the stone and several relatively larger craters that are 13 to 20 centimeters in diameter and three to seven centimeters in depth. These craters are connected by various lines, forming a very large ancient diagram.(photo: www.dahe.cn)


Archaeologist Ma Baoguang recently found some 1,000 hieroglyphic rock paintings in Yangce Town, Biyang County of east-central China's Henan province, according to the report from www.dahe.cn.


Ma went to Yangce with his students for an archaeological investigation on the eve of the May Day holiday. They spent over a week there and have found approximately 1,000 rock paintings of various types within an area of 5 square kilometers in villages such as Chenzhou, Tangligou, Xuzhuang, Leigutai, Anzhai, and Guogang.


Ma told reporters that he was deeply impressed by a large cambered stone which is 8 meters long and 3.7 meters wide. There are more than 500 small craters of different sizes on the surface of the stone and several relatively larger craters that are 13 to 20 centimeters in diameter and three to seven centimeters in depth. These craters are connected by various lines, forming a very large ancient diagram (as shown in the above picture).


"It is quite incredible that a large stone goat carries 'Hetu and Luoshu' (map of the Yellow River and the book of the Luo River) on its back," Ma said.


The neck and back of the stone goat are carved with many craters. This is the first time that a Juci Mountain-style rock painting has been found on a stone animal, which is extremely rare and valuable.



Crete fortifications debunk myth of peaceful Minoan society

By Owen Jarus

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


A team of archaeologists have discovered a fortification system at the Minoan town of Gournia, a discovery which rebukes the popular myth that the Minoans were a peaceful society with no need for defensive structures.


The team's efforts were led by Professor Vance Watrous and Matt Buell of the University at Buffalo. Located on the north coast, Gournia was in use during the neo-palatial period (ca. 1700-1450 BC), when Minoan civilization was at its height. The town sits atop a low ridge with four promontories on its coastline. Two of these promontories end in high vertical cliffs that give the town a defensive advantage, and it is here that the fortification system was discovered.


The team weren’t able to excavate the area, and so relied on photography, drawing and surveying to identify the fortifications. The eastern-most promontory had a heavy wall that was about 27 meters long. Beside it the team found a semi-circular platform of stone, almost nine meters in diameter, which they believe is the remains of a tower or bastion. The other fortified promontory had a two meter thick wall, running east-west, “as if to close off access from the sea,” said Buell.


The other two promontories slope gently down to the shore, and would have provided easy access to the town. “It was on these two promontories”, said Professor Watrous, “that the Minoans built structures.”


The town consists of around 60 tightly-packed houses, a ship shed, and a small palace in the centre, and archaeologists have discovered evidence of wine making, bronze-working and stone-working at the site. “Gournia gives you, the visitor, a real feeling of what an Aegean town was actually like. Walking up the streets, past the houses, you feel like you’ve been transported into the past,” said Buell.


In addition to the beach fortifications, it also appears that the Minoans built a second line of defence further inland. Heading back from the beach, there were two walls, together running about 180 meters east to west. Backed by a tower, or bastion, the walls would have posed a formidable challenge to any invader trying to march into the town.


Defenders manning this system of fortification would have rained projectiles down on attackers, by using bows and slings. The walls had stone foundations and were made of mud brick, making them sturdy enough to stand on.


It’s an open question as to whether the people guarding the fortifications were part of a militia or something more organized. There was “definitely a body of men who would have had that duty but we don’t know exactly what they were like,” said Professor Watrous.


Tombs uncovered by Hawes and other excavators have shown people buried with swords. Watrous said that there was one particular tomb that produced an entire collection of daggers, swords and other items.


However, Gournia’s fortifications did not prevent the town’s demise. The town fell around 1450 BC, along with other Minoan settlements. A new group called the Mycenaean appeared on Crete at this time, taking over the island.


Watrous said that Mycenaeans probably avoided attacking the town by sea. "Many other settlements were destroyed at the same time. My guess is that they just came along the land; they didn’t have to come up from the sea”.


He cannot say for sure if the town defences were ever actually put to their intended use. Any evidence of a battle near these fortifications, such as weapons or bodies, would be underground, and excavation would have to be carried out to see if they exist.


One thing that excavators can say is that the people of Gournia had something worth fighting for. Many of the goods they made – such as the wine and the bronze implements - were for export, suggesting that the people had some level of wealth.




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Tue May 4, 2010 12:32 PM ET


A headless granite statue of a Ptolemaic king has emerged from the ruins of an ancient Egyptian limestone temple believed to be the burial site of Queen Cleopatra and her lover Mark Antony.


According to a statement issued on Tuesday by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the sculpture was unearthed at Taposiris Magna, a site some 30 miles from the port city of Alexandria, by an Egyptian-Dominican team searching for the tomb of the doomed lovers.


More than 2,000 years old, the statue represents the traditional shape of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh wearing collar and kilt.


“Even though the head is missing, this is one of the most beautiful statues from the Ptolemaic period. I think it portrays Ptolemy IV, the pharaoh who constructed temple,” Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Discovery News.


The team, led by Dr. Hawass in collaboration with the Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez, also discovered the temple’s original gate on its western side.


The entrance of the building, which was dedicated to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, was made up of a series of limestone foundation stones. One of the stones showed traces that a sphinx statue once stood upon it.


“This means that there was a sphinx avenue similar to those of the pharaonic era outside and inside the temple,” Hawass said.


The Egyptian-Dominican team spent the past five years trying to locate the last resting place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, the Roman general who became Cleopatra’s lover and had three children with her.

The couple supposedly committed suicide after their combined forces were defeated by Roman Emperor Octavian in the Battle of Actium more than two millennia ago.


While excavating the site --a radar survey of the temple has identified three spots where a burial chamber might lie deep underground -- the archaeologists have unearthed several significant artifacts. These include a number of headless royal statues, which may have been subjected to destruction during the Byzantine and Christian eras, a collection of heads featuring Queen Cleopatra, and 24 metal coins bearing Cleopatra’s profile.


Behind the crumbling temple, a necropolis was also discovered, containing many Graeco-Roman style mummies. Early investigations, said Hawass, show that the mummies were buried with their faces turned toward the temple, which means that a significant royal personality could be buried inside the temple.


“All these findings are leading us to the discovery of the tomb of Cleopatra. They show that something important is waiting for us inside the temple,” Hawass said.



Search for Cleopatra yields Ptolemy instead

May 05 2010 at 02:44AM


Cairo - A headless granite statue, believed to be of King Ptolemy IV, has been unearthed in northern Egypt by archaeologists who were searching for Cleopatra's tomb, the ministry of Culture said on Tuesday.


Behind the Taposiris Magna temple, built by Ptolemy IV, a huge Greco-Roman cemetery was unearthed.


All the heads of the bodies were laid to point towards the temple, indicating the burial of someone important inside, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said.


Egyptian archaeologists, aided by Kathleen Martinez from the Dominican Republic, began their search for the tombs of the famous Egyptian queen and her Roman lover and political ally Mark Anthony five years ago.


Hawass said that the temple, located 50km west of the coastal city of Alexandria, might be the final resting place of Cleopatra and Anthony after evidence showed they were not buried in the royal cemetery, now sunk beneath the Mediterranean Sea.


Last year, archaeologists found a mask thought to belong to Mark Antony, a bust of Cleopatra and 24 coins that had her name and picture engraved on them.


The Ptolemaic era began when Ptolemy I declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt in 305 BC and ended in 30 BC, when Cleopatra and Anthony were defeated by Roman Emperor Octavian in the Battle of Actium and supposedly committed suicide. - Sapa-dpa



Buried by a Welsh beach for 60 years, the World War II fighter that has emerged from the seas


Last updated at 11:47 AM on 7th May 2010


It has been hidden under the the sands and waves since it crashed off the coast of Wales in 1942. But now this wreckage of a rare World War fighter plane may soon be back on dry land.

Described as 'one of the most important WWII finds in recent history', the location of the Lockheed P38 Lightning has been kept a secret to keep the amazing find safe.

Known as the Maid of Harlech the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) fighter crashed on the Gwynedd coast when it was taking part in training exercises and its engines cut out.


Amazingly pilot Lt Robert Elliott walked away from the incident without a scratch but tragically went missing in action just three months later serving in the American's Tunisia campaign in North Africa.

These incredible pictures show how the previously undetected Lightning suddenly appeared on a Wales beach in 2007. Shifting water displaced sand which had hidden it for 60 years and revealed a gem find for aviation buffs.

But now a charity has announced plans to next year retrieve the wreckage. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery are looking for support and a British museum who will accept the fascinating American machine as a gift to display at their venue for history lovers.

TIGHAR are the only non-profit organisation of their kind in the world and work tirelessly retrieving plane wrecks of historical importance and donate them to museums for the public to enjoy.


Led by Ric Gillespie, the team are preparing to journey next month to Gardner Island in the Pacific to find clues of missing American aviation legend Amelia Earhart.

Following that project, TIGAHR will turn their attention to 'The Maid' and are trying to secure funding to pull the buried plane from the Welsh sands.

The group have been in discussions with the Imperial War Museum who were on site in 2007 as they performed an analysis of the Maid. The aim was to determine if it could be safely retrieved and how they can stop the aged machine disintegrating when they do.

Ric said: 'The world's beaches, bays and oceans are rich repositories of rare aircraft but they remain largely untapped because of the corrosive effects of immersion in sea water.

'Museums have raised historic aircraft from salt water in good condition and at great expense only to see them crumble to white powder in a matter of months.

'Techniques for conserving and stabilising metals recovered from nautical environments have been developed and tested but have never been applied to a complete aircraft.

'One of the proven processes involves partially dismantling the aircraft and submerging the pieces in tanks of a special solution through which a mild electric current is passed. Detox can take a year or more but the end result is a relatively stable historic artefact that would otherwise have been lost.  


'We are working closely with the Centre for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation at Texas A&M University to develop a recovery and conservation plan that will enable the Maid of Harlech to be truly conserved.

'We're also building a coalition of US and UK archaeological and aviation historical groups that will make it possible to fund and carry out the recovery and begin the conservation process before the whims of nature once more expose the aircraft to the destructive force of the sea and what the 17th century British antiquarian John Aubrey called, "the hands of mistaken zeal."

'We invite and encourage anyone who shares our goals to join us.' 

And TIGHAR feel the fascinating find could go down in the history books. With the help from other individuals and organisations they have worked hard to protect her.


'It is one of the most significant WWII-related archaeological discoveries in recent history,' added Ric.

'We call her the Maid of Harlech after the magnificent 13th century Welsh castle, but until she is can be rescued from the sands of time, her actual location must remain confidential.

'Although the aircraft is covered by the Protection of Military Remains Act and disturbing the site in any way carries heavy penalties, the looting of historic wreck sites by unscrupulous souvenir hunters is, nonetheless, a major problem worldwide.

'Nature has done a good job hiding the wreck.'


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1274292/Buried-Welsh-beach-60-years-World-War-II-fighter-emerged-seas.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#ixzz0nNarJpqZ



Indonesia treasure auction fails to attract bidders


An Indonesian auction of more than 270,000 treasures recovered from a 10th Century Chinese shipwreck has failed to attract a single bidder.

Organisers had hoped the sale would raise $80m (£52.7m), which would have been one of the largest sums raised at auction in the country.

Officials said there had been some 20 expressions of interest but no-one paid the $16m deposit required to bid.

They said a second sale would be held at a later date.

The treasure, found on a 10th Century Chinese ship off the coast of West Java in 2004, is believed to be one of the largest troves ever found in Asia.

In total some 271,000 items were being offered at the sale in the capital, Jakarta.

"Ceramics account for about 90% of the findings," Aris Kabul, secretary of the auction committee had told Reuters.


Others items include delicate jewel-studded gold jewellery, crystal ware and swords with Arabic inscriptions.

The amount raised was to have been split equally between the government and the treasure hunters who retrieved the goods from the sunken ship.

"The cost of the removal of the goods from the ancient shipwreck was $10m," said Mr Sudirman, Indonesia's Director General of Maritime, Coastal Areas and Small Islands.

"Indonesia doesn't have the resources to be able to remove these sorts of underwater treasures by ourselves."

Belgian treasure hunter Luc Heymans, who was involved in the salvage operation and was to receive some of the revenue from the sale, said he was not surprised the auction failed.

'Hefty deposit'

"The problem is the regulations. I didn't really expect people to come and deposit $16m," he told the AFP news agency.

"Also the timing, the announcement was only five days before the auction. How do you expect people to decide in five days to put $16m on the table? It's a lot of money."

The BBC's Karishma Vaswani in Jakarta says $16m was a hefty price for the organisers to ask for, but they had only wanted serious buyers to attend the sale.

Maritime Affairs Ministry official Ansori Zawawi told AFP the second attempt would take place under new conditions - it was not certain whether the deposit system would remain in place.