DNA study deals blow to theory of European origins

By Paul Rincon

Science editor, BBC News website

24 August 2011 Last updated at 00:15


A new study deals a blow to the idea that most European men are descended from farmers who migrated from the Near East 5,000-10,000 years ago.


The findings challenge previous research showing that the genetic signature of the farmers displaced that of Europe's indigenous hunters.


The latest research leans towards the idea that most of Europe's males trace a line of descent to stone-age hunters.


But the authors say more work is needed to answer this question.


The study, by an international team, is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Archaeological finds show that modern humans first settled in Europe from about 40,000 years ago - during a time known as the Palaeolithic.


These people survived an Ice Age some 20,000 years ago by retreating to relatively warm refuges in the south of the continent, before expanding into northern Europe again when the ice melted.


But just a few thousand years after Europe had been resettled by these hunter-gatherers, the continent underwent momentous cultural change. Farmers spread westwards from the area that is now Turkey, bringing with them a new economy and way of life.


The extent to which modern Europeans are descended from these early farmers versus the indigenous hunter-gatherers who settled the continent thousands of years previously is a matter of heated debate.


The results vary depending on the genetic markers studied and are subject to differing interpretations.


The latest study focused on the Y chromosome - a package of DNA which is passed down more or less unchanged from father to son.


The Y chromosomes carried by people today can be classified into different types, or lineages, which - to some extent - reflect their geographical origins.


More than 100 million European men carry a type called R-M269, so identifying when this genetic group spread out is vital to understanding the peopling of Europe.


R-M269 is most common in western Europe, reaching frequencies of 90% or more in Spain, Ireland and Wales.


But while this type reaches its highest distribution on the Atlantic fringe, Patricia Balaresque and colleagues at the University of Leicester published a paper in 2010 showing that the genetic diversity of R-M269 increases as one moves east - reaching a peak in Anatolia (modern Turkey).


Genetic diversity is used as a measure of age; lineages that have been around for a long time accumulate more diversity. So this principle can be used to estimate the age of a population.


When the Leicester team estimated how old R-M269 was in different populations across Europe, they found the age ranges were more compatible with an expansion in Neolithic times (between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago).


The team's conclusions received support from papers published in August 2010 and in June this year. But one study which appeared last year backed the idea of a more ancient, Palaeolithic origin for R-M269.


Now, a team including Cristian Capelli and George Busby at Oxford University have explored the question.


Their results, based on a sample of more than 4,500 men from Europe and western Asia, showed no geographical trends in the diversity of R-M269. Such trends would be expected if the lineage had expanded from Anatolia with Neolithic farmers.


Furthermore, they suggest that some of the markers on the Y chromosome are less reliable than others for estimating the ages of genetic lineages. On these grounds, they argue that current analytical tools are unsuitable for dating the expansion of R-M269.


Indeed, Dr Capelli and his team say the problem extends to other studies of Y-chromosome lineages: dates based on the analysis of conventional DNA markers may have been "systematically underestimated", they write in Proceedings B.


But Dr Capelli stressed that his study could not answer the question of when the ubiquitous R-M269 expanded in Europe, although his lab is carrying out more work on the subject.


"At the moment it's not possible to claim anything about the age of this lineage," he told BBC News, "I would say that we are putting the ball back in the middle of the field."


Co-author Dr Jim Wilson from the University of Edinburgh explained: "Estimating a date at which an ancestral lineage originated is an interesting application of genetics, but unfortunately it is beset with difficulties."


The increasing frequency of R-M269 towards western Europe had long been seen by some researchers as an indication that Palaeolithic European genes survived in this region - alongside other clues.


A more recent origin for R-M269 than the Neolithic is also possible. But researchers point out that after the advent of agriculture, populations in Europe exploded, meaning that it would have been more difficult for incoming migrants to displace local people.



The largest known prehistoric settlement in Europe

A Bronze Age capital city?

Editor: Martin Carver; Reviews Editor: Madeleine Hummler; Editorial Manager: Jo Tozer

King‘s Manor, York YO1 7EP - Website: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk

Press release

Volume 85 No. 329 September 2011

In the plains of the Banat in western Romania lies a massive Late Bronze Age fortified settlement. The site, which is made up of four encompassing enclosures, measures almost 6km across, roughly the same size as ancient Rome, or modern Moscow inside the ring-road. At present it is the largest known prehistoric settlement in Europe.

The site has been part of the archaeological record since at least the nineteenth century and parts of two of the enclosures appeared on a ‗Mercy Map‘ (map series created between 1723 and 1725 by Count Claude Florimund de Mercy, commander of the Banat 1716–1730). More details of the site were mapped by the Austrian military in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the fourth, outermost enclosure, was only revealed by aerial photography in 1973.

The first archaeological excavations at the site were carried out in 1932 and 1939 but the outbreak of World War II brought investigations to an abrupt end. In 2007 a team of archaeologists from Romania, Germany and Britain renewed investigation at the site.

The team‘s findings, published in Antiquity, identify a complex process of development, dense occupation and signs of destruction by fire. The site is clearly fortified but, as the author‘s note, ―Such extensive ramparts would have been impossible to defend‖ and therefore ―a purely defensive function for Corneşti-Iarcuri can be ruled out.‖ The location of the settlement, on an expansive rolling plain and the number of gates set in the enclosures also suggest to the authors ―a rather different type of defended settlement.‖ The authors therefore turn their attention to social and ideological explanations for the settlement —―prestige, power and display‖.

The authors don‘t think that the whole interior could have been urban — that would imply too huge a population. But they note with proper sobriety the effort necessary for the construction of such a site, which gives evidence for a social structure on a scale so far unheard of in Bronze Age Europe.

Considering the evidence presented Antiquity‘s editor, Professor Martin Carver, suggests that, ―It can hardly be other than a capital city playing a role in the determinant struggles of its day — weighty and far reaching events of the European continent now being chronicled by archaeology.‖

Embargoed until 22 August 2011

To receive an advance copy of the article, lease contact Jo Tozer either by calling +44 (0)1904 323994 or emailing assistant@antiquity.ac.uk

Please cite ‗Antiquity Publications Ltd, www.antiquity.ac.uk‘ as the place of first publication – thank you.

A full list of all articles published in this issue, including those published in the open access Project Gallery, will be available online at http://antiquity.ac.uk/journal.html from 22 August.

Notes for editors

Antiquity is a quarterly journal of world archaeology, edited by Professor Martin Carver. The journal was founded by O.G.S. Crawford in 1927. Antiquity is currently edited in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York (head: Professor Julian D. Richards).



Mystery over Roman battle may rule it out from list

By Steven McKenzie

BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

26 August 2011 Last updated at 00:29


The most northerly battle fought by imperial Rome could be left out of an inventory of Scottish battlefields due to uncertainty over the site.


Mons Graupius in AD 83 or 84 saw the 9th Hispana, its cohorts and Roman cavalry defeat 30,000 Caledonians.


Locations suggested in the past include Dunning in Perthshire, Carpow in Fife, Bennachie in Aberdeenshire and Culloden in the Highlands.


Historic Scotland said an accurate site was needed for inclusion on its list.


The body has commissioned research on Mons Graupius along with a number of other battle sites.


It has already placed several battlefields including Bannockburn in 1314 and Culloden in 1746 on Scotland's Inventory of Historic Battlefields and earlier this month put out 11 other sites for public consultation.


The list, which includes details on the boundaries and armies involved, will act as a guide to planning authorities.


Historic Scotland's Dr Lesley MacInnes, said a decision had still to be made on whether Mons Graupius should be put forward for consideration as an entry on the inventory.


The head of battlefields said: "We have recently commissioned the research for a number of battlefields including Mons Graupius.


"Early sites such as Mons Graupius present particular challenges for accurate location which is one of the required criteria for inclusion."


Dr MacInnes added: "Any sites which are considered to be of national importance but cannot be accurately located cannot be included at this stage but will be kept under review should further information emerge to allow their inclusion.


"The research outcome for Mons Graupius will be clarified by the end of the financial year."


Mons Graupius is believed to be wrapped up in the mysterious disappearance of the 9th Hispana in AD 120.


The legion, cohorts of auxiliary light infantrymen from Gaul and Batavia along with cavalry were heavily outnumbered by Caledonians at the battlefield.


However, the tactics of Roman general Gnaeus Julius Agricola left 10,000 tribesmen dead but relatively light casualties among the auxiliaries.


There has been a long running debate on where the battle was fought.


In his book Legions of Rome, historian Stephen Dando-Collins said no location has been "reliably fixed".


Potential sites have been weighed up on the website Roman Scotland.


It rates Dunning the most likely and Culloden among the least.


Sites close to the Grampian mountains have also been suggested in the past.


In his book, Dando-Collins connects Mons Graupius with the disappearance of the 9th after it was later posted to Carlisle.


He said Caledonians had sought revenge for the defeat and ambushed and slaughtered the legion along with its affiliated units.


Mystery surrounding the fate of the 9th inspired Rosemary Sutcliff's children's book Eagle of the Ninth and two recent films - The Eagle and Centurion.


Scenes for The Eagle starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell were shot around Achiltibuie and Old Dornie, near Ullapool, and in the Cairngorms for Centurion.



500 years ago, yeast's epic journey gave rise to lager beer



In the 15th century, when Europeans first began moving people and goods across the Atlantic, a microscopic stowaway somehow made its way to the caves and monasteries of Bavaria.

The stowaway, a yeast that may have been transported from a distant shore on a piece of wood or in the stomach of a fruit fly, was destined for great things. In the dank caves and monastery cellars where 15th century brewmeisters stored their product, the newly arrived yeast fused with a distant relative, the domesticated yeast used for millennia to make leavened bread and ferment wine and ale. The resulting hybrid - representing a marriage of species as evolutionarily separated as humans and chickens - would give us lager, the clear, cold-fermented beer first brewed by 15th century Bavarians and that today is among the most popular - if not the most popular - alcoholic beverage in the world.

And while scientists and brewers have long known that the yeast that gives beer the capacity to ferment at cold temperatures was a hybrid, only one player was known: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used to make leavened bread and ferment wine and ale. Its partner, which conferred on beer the ability to ferment in the cold, remained a puzzle, as scientists were unable to find it among the 1,000 or so species of yeast known to science.

Now, an international team of researchers believes it has identified the wild yeast that, in the age of sail, apparently traveled more than 7,000 miles to those Bavarian caves to make a fortuitous microbial match that today underpins the $250 billion a year lager beer industry.

Writing this week (Aug. 22) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Portugal, Argentina and the United States describe the discovery of a wild yeast in the beech forests of Patagonia, the alpine region at the tip of South America, that apparently solves the age-old mystery of the origin of the yeast that made cold-temperature fermentation and lager beer possible.

"People have been hunting for this thing for decades," explains Chris Todd Hittinger, a University of Wisconsin-Madison genetics professor and a co-author of the new study. "And now we've found it. It is clearly the missing species. The only thing we can't say is if it also exists elsewhere (in the wild) and hasn't been found."

The newfound yeast, dubbed Saccharomyces eubayanus, was discovered as part of an exhaustive global search, led by the New University of Lisbon's José Paulo Sampaio and Paula Gonçalves. Aimed squarely at resolving the lager yeast mystery, the Portuguese team sorted through European yeast collections, combed the scientific literature and gathered new yeasts from European environments. Their efforts yielded no candidate species of European origin.

Expanding the search to other parts of the world, however, finally paid dividends when collaborator Diego Libkind of the Institute for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CONICET) in Bariloche, Argentina, found in galls that infect beech trees a candidate species whose genetic material seemed to be a close match to the missing half of the lager yeast.

"Beech galls are very rich in simple sugars. It's a sugar rich habitat that yeast seem to love," notes Hittinger.

The yeast is so active in the galls, according to Libkind, that they spontaneously ferment. "When overmature, they fall all together to the (forest) floor where they often form a thick carpet that has an intense ethanol odor, most probably due to the hard work of our new Saccharomyces eubayanus."

The new yeast was hustled off to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where a team that included Hittinger, Jim Dover and Mark Johnston sequenced its genome. "It proved to be distinct from every known wild species of yeast, but was 99.5 percent identical to the non-ale yeast portion of the lager genome," says Hittinger, now an assistant professor of genetics at UW-Madison.

The Colorado team also identified genetic mutations in the lager yeast hybrid distinctive from the genome of the wild lager yeast. Those changes - taking place in a brewing environment where evolution can be amped up by the abundance of yeast - accumulated since those first immigrant yeasts melded with their ale cousins 500 years ago and have refined the lager yeast's ability to metabolize sugar and malt and to produce sulfites, transforming an organism that evolved on beech trees into a lean, mean beer-making machine.

"Our discovery suggests that hybridization instantaneously formed an imperfect 'proto-lager' yeast that was more cold-tolerant than ale yeast and ideal for the cool Bavarian lagering process," Hittinger avers. "After adding some new variation for brewers to exploit, its sugar metabolism probably became more like ale yeast and better at producing beer.


Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the University of Wisconsin-Madison



St Andrews’ 12th century tolbooth unearthed

Published on Friday 26 August 2011 07:00


The remains of the oldest town council building in Scotland have been uncovered in St Andrews town centre.


Dating from the first half of the 12th century, the significant discovery of what is believed to be the earliest phase of the structure serving as a centre of local burgh administration, justice and ceremony - the tolbooth - has been found in Market Street during the current £1.5 million upgrading programme.


Archaeologist Douglas Speirs said that the remains are the earliest upstanding municipal or civic architectural fabric in Scotland.


Because of the historic significance and sensitivity of St Andrews, planning consent for the roadworks carried a condition requiring all work to be archaeologically monitored. A number of interesting finds and observations have been made as part of the monitoring but, most important, has been the unearthing of the site of the burgh’s former tolbooth.


Pioneering low altitude, high-resolution vertical aerial photography was used to record the fragmentary remains showing the site and layout of the country’s first tolbooth.


Built around 1140 as the headquarters of the town council, the tolbooth or praetorium was the office from which the provost and baillies organised the running of the newly-created burgh.


Tolbooths were later to become commonplace throughout Scotland, but the archaeological deposits, supported by medieval charter evidence, suggest that the remains uncovered in St Andrews date to the 12th century.


Mr Speirs, who is Fife Council’s archaeologist and is overseeing the project, said that experts were aware of the tolbooth’s existence thanks to evidence from as early as 1144. The original tolbooth was rebuilt in the 16th century after a royal proclamation ruled townhouses must also include jails, and this building stood in the centre of Market Street until it was demolished in 1862.


The remains uncovered don’t fit the footprint of the 16th century rebuild, however, and so must be part of the original building.


Detailed interpretation of the site has proven difficult, but with the services of local company, Edward Martin Photography, new technology has been used to overcome the problems caused by modern disturbance to the site.


For the first time in Scottish urban archaeology, a small GPS-guided drone was used to photograph the site from the air, a process which drew large crowds of onlookers. Specifically developed for low altitude aerial photography the remotely operated micro-kopter was flown over the site and the pictures taken stitched together to form a composite, fully rectified image map of the site.


Mr Speirs said: ”The opportunities offered by this technology represent a truly radical leap forward in archaeological surveying. Not only does it reveal detail near impossible to identify on the ground, but the nature and speed of the operation makes it ideal for work on development sites where access is difficult and time constraints are paramount.


“This technique will undoubtedly revolutionise the practice of commercial archaeology and I expect that surveying drones hovering over urban building sites will become a common sight in the years to come.”


Using the aerial surveying technique has enabled the archaeology on the site to be identified, recorded and excavated significantly faster than traditional methods meaning no hold up to the development timetable.


Excavations are continuing on site and it is hoped that radiocarbon dates from the samples so far taken may add even greater interest to the site, shedding new light on the earliest origins and evolution of St Andrews and inform a debate that has run for years.


Mr Speirs added: “It’s hard to be sure before we get the carbon dates back, but it’s entirely possible that the deposits underlying the tolbooth may yet prove to be some of the earliest evidence of a town in Scotland.”


Market Street is the site of several historic markings, including The Tron, The Old Townhouse footprint and the Mercat Cross



Shipwreck of 16th-century Swedish vessel found in Baltic



The wreck of a Swedish warship that historians hope is the Mars, head of King Erik XIV's fleet before it sank in the Baltic in 1564, has been found off Sweden's coast, museum officials said.


A team of divers discovered the wreck at a depth of 75 metres, 18.5 kilometres north of the Swedish island of Oland, Stockholm's maritime history museum said. The find came after several years of research.


"Everything suggests that it is indeed the Mars that we have found," Richard Lundgren, one of the divers, said in the statement.


"The size and the age of the ship correspond," with historical records, he added.


A stack of corn, the symbol of the Swedish royal family at the time, was found engraved on a cannon, providing another strong clue.


"This is a wreck we have waited a long time to see," said Andreas Olsson, head of the museum's archeology department, practically certain that the find is indeed the ship described as "mythical" by the museum.


The remains of the ship will be important for research, he added, particularly in comparison with other recovered finds of historical importance, including the Swedish Vasa which was sunk in 1628, and the British Mare Rose which went down in 1545.


Equipped with 107 cannons and a crew of 800, the Mars was one of the biggest ships of its day.


Just a year after being launched it was sunk in May 1564 during a major battle against the Danish fleet.


More than 450 years later, the experts think the Mars has reappeared and "it seems to be well preserved," though with a hole in its side, Olsson told reporters.


© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald



Historic wreck 'opened' to divers for first time

Monday, August 29, 2011Western Morning NewsFollow


Divers in the Westcountry can now dive around the remains of a 300-year-old, 90-gun, three-decked warship of the English fleet, thanks to a pioneering new trail that has been three decades in the making.


Coronation, a veteran of the Battle of Beachy Head from which the French navy emerged victorious, came to her end not at the hands of her sworn enemy but during one of the most horrific storms to ever hit the south coast of England.


Seeking safety from the hurricane-force winds that battered the English and Dutch allied fleet on September 3, 1691, the Coronation anchored off Rame Head in Cornwall, in a vain attempt to ride out the storm.


Admiralty archives hold a written journal of the time by Edward Barlow, Chief Mate of Admiral Russell's flagship Royal Sovereign, the closest we have to an eyewitness account of her demise.


"A second-rate ship the Coronation coming into the Sound her anchors being let drop, and veering out cable to bring her up, she took a salley and sank down to righties in about 22 fathom."


There was nothing that captain Charles Skelton could do to prevent the inevitable tragedy and of his crew of 600 only 20 survivors made it to safety on the rocky shores of Rame Head.


While the warship was discovered and formally identified in the mid 1970s, diving the site had until recently been the exclusive preserve of marine archaeologists for fear of unauthorised salvage.


However, under the stewardship of a group of dedicated volunteer divers, permission has finally been gained to allow sport diving to commence on the Coronation's historic remains.


The Coronation Wreck Project was formed after a chance meeting between vocational archaeologist Ginge Crook, already heavily involved with on-going survey work, and keen diver Mark Pearce, who expressed a desire to dive the off-limits wreck.


During 2009, the pair began to discuss how they could widen the appeal of the site and also involve those who until recently, were denied access to one of the most important marine archaeological sites along our coastline.


Mr Crook, a Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) Part II qualified diver, explained the idea behind the launch of the Coronation Wreck Project's Diver Trail held for an invited audience at Plymouth's Fort Bovisand.


He said: "There was a lot of initial scepticism from the various parties when we first mooted the idea of a 'diver trail' but our feeling was that the perception that divers would damage or loot from the wreck was outdated and unfair.


"Mark and I wanted to show that divers could be trusted so with the full support of English Heritage and the NAS, along with the Crown Estates we were able to get our scheme operational."


The trail features a total of 10 buoyed and numbered stations – each station featuring a combination of single anchors or one or multiple cannons – and a waterproof guide complete with compass bearings and other useful information to aid navigation on the 18 metre deep site.


At over 5 metres in length, 2.5 metres across the flukes and weighing an estimated five tonnes, Station One's main anchor is a spectacular introduction to the trail and passing from cannon to cannon along the site gives a sense of scale to the tragedy that occurred on that fateful night.


Lead shot can still be found on the seabed and as Ginge Crook said, there is always the chance that the shifting of the sands may bring some new artifact into view.


"Only the day before our launch we did a last-minute check to see all the buoys were in place when we came across what appeared to be a lead apron.


"These aprons were used to shield the barrel of the cannon from water ingress while not in use and we were able to confirm and show our findings on launch day to our guest divers during the inaugural tour."


Peter McBride, 70, and the original finder of the Coronation is still involved with the project in an advisory capacity and is in the final stages of preparation of a book on his experiences.


Mr McBride began his research and surveying of the site in 1971 and he and his team finally got their breakthrough on August 10, 1977.


For further information visit the website: www.coronationwreck.co.uk