Modern Europeans descended from three groups of ancestors

by Staff Writers

Chevy Chase MD (SPX) Sep 22, 2014

Although DNA from ancient north Eurasians is present in nearly all modern Europeans, Reich's team did not find it in their ancient hunter-gatherers or the ancient farmers. That means the north Eurasian line of ancestry was introduced into Europe after agriculture had been established, a scenario most archaeologists had thought unlikely.


New studies of ancient DNA are shifting scientists' ideas of how groups of people migrated across the globe and interacted with one another thousands of years ago. By comparing nine ancient genomes to those of modern humans, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists have shown that previously unrecognized groups contributed to the genetic mix now present in most modern-day Europeans.


"There are at least three major, highly differentiated populations that have contributed substantial amounts of ancestry to almost everybody that has European ancestry today," says David Reich, an HHMI investigator at Harvard Medical School.


Those include hunter-gatherers from western Europe, the early farmers who brought agriculture to Europe from the Near East, and a newly identified group of ancient north Eurasians who arrived in Europe sometime after the introduction of agriculture.


That means there were major movements of people into Europe later than previously thought. The team, led by Reich and Johannes Krause at the University of Tubingen in Germany, reported their findings in the September 18, 2014, issue of the journal Nature.


In the last five years, genetic evidence has demonstrated that migrants from the Near East brought agriculture with them to Europe when they arrived about 8,500 years ago. But the genomes of present-day Europeans show signs that they come from more than just the indigenous hunter-gatherers and these early farmers.


Two years ago, Reich's group uncovered genetic evidence that most present-day Europeans are a mixture of groups related to southern Europeans, Near Easterners, and a third group most closely related to Native Americans. "That was a crazy observation, but it's very strong statistically," Reich says.


"We argued that this is because of the contribution of an ancient north Eurasian population some of whose members contributed to the peopling of the Americas more than 15,000 years ago, and others of which later migrated to Europe."


To clarify that early history, Reich's team, including more than 100 collaborators worldwide, collected genetic data from nine ancient skeletons and 203 present-day populations living all over the world.


Collaborators isolated human DNA and sequenced the complete genomes from the bones of a 7,000-year old skeleton found in Germany and eight skeletons of hunter-gatherers who lived in Luxembourg and Sweden about 8,000 years ago. They compared those genomes to those of the 2,345 people in their contemporary populations.


That required developing new computational methods for genetic analysis. "Figuring out how these populations are related is extremely hard," Reich says.


"There's a lot that happened in Europe in the last 8,000 years, and this history acts like a veil, making it difficult to discern what happened at the beginning of this period. We had to find statistics that were able to tell us what happened deep in the past without getting confused by 8,000 years of intervening history, when massive and important events occurred."


"What we find is unambiguous evidence that people in Europe today have all three of these ancestries: early European farmers who brought agriculture to Europe, the indigenous hunter-gatherers who were in Europe prior to 8,000 years ago, and these ancient north Eurasians," Reich says.


Further analyses showed that describing present-day Europeans as a mixture of the three populations is a good fit for most, although not all, populations.


When the study began, the ancient north Eurasian population was a "ghost population" - identified based on genetic patterns without any ancient DNA. But in 2013, another group analyzed DNA from two skeletons found in Siberia, one from 24,000 years ago and one from 17,000 years ago, and found that it shared genetic similarities with Europeans and North Americans. The ghost, Reich says, had been found.


Although DNA from ancient north Eurasians is present in nearly all modern Europeans, Reich's team did not find it in their ancient hunter-gatherers or the ancient farmers. That means the north Eurasian line of ancestry was introduced into Europe after agriculture had been established, a scenario most archaeologists had thought unlikely.


"We have this amazing observation that only two ancestries are represented among the first farmers, from about 7,000 to 5,000 years ago. And then suddenly everybody today has ancient north Eurasian ancestry," Reich says.


"So there must have been a later movement of this ancestry into Europe."


Anthropologists have long thought that densely settled populations would be resistant to the arrival of new groups. "But this is hard evidence that exactly such a major migration occurred," Reich says.


"It's very important because it's a major contributor to Europeans today." The time of the ancient north Eurasians' arrival remains to be determined, but Reich says their later-than-expected movement into Europe might help explain the complex mix of languages that exists there today.


The team's data also reveals that the first farmers to reach Europe from the Near East had ancestors from a previously unidentified lineage, which Reich's group named the Basal Eurasians. Basal Eurasians were the first people to separate from the larger group of non-Africans, before other non-African groups diversified.


Reich says that attempts to identify the first group to split from the non-Africans had always been puzzling: genetic evidence indicates that this is likely to be Europeans or Near Easterners, even though some archaeological evidence has indicated that people were in New Guinea and Australia before they were Europe.


The new analysis shows that the Near Easterners who came into Europe 8,000 years ago brought with them a strand of ancestry that had separated before the ancestors of Australian aborigines separated from the indigenous people of Europe.


"That population must have been hanging out somewhere in the Near East for a very long time," Reich says. Now he would like to know how that population fits into the archaeological history of the region. Ancient DNA from Basal Europeans, if found, might lead to new revelations about early human history.



Stonehenge's most intricate archaeological finds were 'probably made by children'

Gold micro-working is probably too detailed for adults



Some of the most high status pieces of prehistoric ‘bling’, prized by Stonehenge’s Bronze Age social elite, are likely to have been made by children, according to new research.


An analysis of objects, found near the ancient stone circle, shows that the ultra-fine craftwork involved such tiny components that only children or myopic (short-sighted) adults could have made them.


The research into the human eyesight optics of micro-gold-working in the Bronze Age  has considerable implications for more fully understanding the nature of society  in Western Europe some 4000 years ago.


“The very finest gold work involved the making and positioning of literally tens of thousands of tiny individually-made components, each around a millimetre long and around a fifth of a millimetre wide,” said David Dawson, Director of the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes where the world’s finest prehistoric micro-gold working achievements are on display as part of a major permanent exhibition of Bronze Age gold treasures.


“Only children and teenagers, and those adults who had become myopic naturally or due to the nature of their work as children, would have been able to create and manufacture such tiny objects,” said a leading authority on the optics of the human eye, Ronald Rabbetts, who has been assessing the human eyesight implications of Bronze Age micro-gold-working – implications that are examined in detail in a BBC Two documentary ‘Operation Stonehenge’, this evening, Thursday.

“The implication is that there would almost certainly have been a small section of the Bronze Age artisan class who, often as a result of their childhood work, were myopic for their adult life. They would therefore have been unable to do any other work apart from the making of tiny artefacts and would have had to be supported by the community at large,” he said.


The Stonehenge area object with the largest number of ultra-small gold components is a dagger made in around 1900 BC – and now on display in Devizes’ Wiltshire Museum. Crafted more than 1100 years before the invention of the first magnifying glass, the dagger’s 12 centimetre long handle was adorned with up to 140,000 tiny gold studs – each around a millimetre long and  around 0.2 of a millimetre in diameter. Even the heads of each stud are just a third of a millimetre wide. They were set, with great manual dexterity and remarkable skill, into the surface of the wooden dagger handle - with more than a thousand studs neatly embedded in each square centimetre.


The ancient dagger (The University of Birmingham) The ancient dagger (The University of Birmingham)

The prehistoric gold micro-working process appears to have had at least four stages. First, Bronze Age craftsmen manufactured lengths of extremely fine gold wire, almost as fine as a human hair. Then they flattened the end of a piece of wire to create the first stud-head – and cut the wire with a very sharp flint or obsidian razor a mere millimetre below the head. This delicate procedure was then repeated literarily tens of thousands of times – to decorate just one dagger handle!  Next, a tiny bronze awl with an extremely fine point was used to create minute holes in the dagger handle in which to position the studs. Then a thin layer of tree resin was rubbed over the surface as an adhesive to keep the studs in place.


Each stud was then carefully placed into its miniscule hole – probably with the help of a very fine pair of bone or wooden tweezers,  because the studs are too small to have been placed in position directly by the artisan’s fingers.


“We estimate that the entire operation – wire manufacture, stud-making, hole-making, resin pasting and stud positioning – would have taken at least 2500 hours to complete,” said David Dawson.


The dagger – and another probably less decorated similar weapon found with it – are  believed to be the only such ultra-fine micro-worked artefacts to have survived from the prehistoric period anywhere in the world. But the high level of skill involved suggests that it was not a one-off creation, but was instead probably a product of a wider micro-gold-working tradition in at least part of Bronze Age western Europe. It is likely that the tradition was centred in Brittany in what is now western France.


It is also conceivable that Bronze Age craftsmen used comparable  micro-working skills to create ultra-fine textiles.


The gold-studded daggers were discovered in 1808 inside Bush Barrow, a substantial Bronze Age burial mound, located almost a thousand metres from Stonehenge. However, it is only now that the eyesight and other human implications of its manufacture have been examined in detail.


Mr. Rabbetts - author of an important textbook on the optics of the human eye, Clinical Visual Optics - thinks that it is possible that Bronze Age micro-gold-working artisans may have started their careers by the age of ten. Within around five years (ie potentially by the age of around 15), many of these child artisans’ eyes would have been so affected  by close-up focusing that they would have become myopic.


By their early 20s, many would have perceived people and objects  more than a metre away as just blurred impressions. In a world without spectacles, it would have been impossible for them to operate normally within society – and they would have had no alternative but to continue with and develop their micro-working crafts. But, ironically, that would have made them valuable economic assets – despite their poor sight.



Moving on from Stonehenge: Researchers make the case for archaeoastronomy

By Richard Moss | 15 August 2014


The field of archaeoastronomy is evolving say researchers seeking a closer relationship between astronomy and archaeology


The merging of astronomical techniques with the archaeological study of ancient man-made features in the landscape could prove Neolithic and Bronze Age people were acute astronomical observers, according to researchers. 


Dubbed archaeoastronomy, the developing and sometimes maligned field takes a multi-disciplinary approach to exploring a range of theories about the astronomical alignment of standing stones and megalithic structures.


Some of these theories were highlighted recently at the 2014 National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth.


Archaeoastronomy expert Dr Fabio Silva of University College London has been studying 6000-year-old winter occupation sites and megalithic structures in the Mondego valley in central Portugal.


He said recent research shows that all the entrance corridors of passage graves in a necropolis in the valley aligned “with the seasonal rising over nearby mountains of the star Aldebaran, the brightest star of Taurus”.


Dr Silva believes this link between the appearance of the star in springtime and the mountains where the dolmen builders would have spent their summers "has echoes in local folklore" which recounts how the Serra da Estrela or 'Mountain Range of the Star' received its name from a shepherd and his dog following a star.


Some of the most debated claims about archeological alignment continue to be those relating to Stonehenge, which remains subject to a range of theories about solar and lunar alignments. Some archaeoastronomers are however keen to move the debate beyond the famous standing stones of Salisbury Plain.


Dr Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University, who presented updates on his work on the 4000-year-old Gardom's Edge in the UK's Peak District, which he believes to be astronomically aligned, said: "there's more to archaeoastronomy than Stonehenge.


"Modern archaeoastronomy encompasses many other research areas such as anthropology, ethnoastronomy and even educational research.”


“It has stepped away from its speculative beginnings and placed itself solidly onto the foundation of statistical methods,” he added.


“However, this pure scientific approach has its own challenges that need to be overcome by embracing humanistic influences and putting the research into context with local cultures and landscape.”


Dr Silva, who is co-editor of the Journal for Skyscape Archaeology, which promotes the role and importance of the sky in archaeological interpretation, added: "We have much to gain if the fields of astronomy and archaeology come together to a fuller and more balanced understanding of European megaliths and the societies that built them.”



The only way is EGYPT! 3,000-year-old remains of woman unearthed with 70 hair extensions tied in intricate layers

·         The skull was one of hundreds found in the ancient city of Amarna

·         Many had their final hairstyles incredibly well-preserved using fat

·         One skull had elaborate extensions made of grey and black hair

·         This suggests different people donated their hair for the final piece

·         Some skulls had curls around the ear and many also had braids


PUBLISHED: 17:10, 19 September 2014 | UPDATED: 20:03, 19 September 2014


You may think hair extensions were created for the feisty, fake-tan bearing women of today – but they were in fact being flaunted by Egyptian women more than 3,000 years ago.

The pieces were elaborate creations, with one recently uncovered in an Egyptian coffin made up of 70 elaborate extensions fastened together.

The owner of the hair piece had her body wrapped in a mat, but her name, age and occupation remain a mystery to archaeologists.

The owner of the hair piece had her body wrapped in a mat, but her name, age and occupation remain a mystery to archaeologists

The skull was one of hundreds found in the ancient city of Amarna, many of which had their final hairstyles incredibly well-preserved using fat.

One skull had extensions made of grey and dark black hair suggesting a number of different people donated their hair to create the piece.


However, the latest intricate design of hair extension has left researchers on the Amarna Project baffled.

'Whether or not the woman had her hair styled like this for her burial only is one of our main research questions,' Jolanda Bos, an archaeologist working on the Amarna Project, told Owen Jarus at Live Science


'Whether or not the woman had her hair styled like this for her burial only is one of our main research questions,' Jolanda Bos an archaeologist working on the Amarna Project, told Live Science


This skull was one of hundreds found in the ancient city of Amarna, many of which had their final hairstyles incredibly well-preserved using fat



Ancient Egyptians used hair gel to style their locks in everyday life, researchers have found.

A study several years ago of male and female mummies has found fashion-conscious Egyptians made use of a fat-based product to keep their hair in place.

They used the styling gel on both long and short hair, tried to curl their hair with tongs and even plaited it in hair extensions to lengthen their tresses.

It is thought they used these methods in both life and death, with corpses being styled to make sure they looked good in the afterlife.

The incredible discovery was made by archaeological scientists who studied hair samples of 18 male and female mummies, aged from four to 58 years old.

Using light and electron microscopes, they found that nine of the mummies had coated their hair in the fatty substance, which is thought to be a beauty product.

Bizarrely, even in the artificially-preserved bodies the hair did not contain resins or embalming materials, suggesting the hair was styled separately to the mummification process.

'The hair was most likely styled after death, before a person was buried.

'It is also likely, however, that these hairstyles were used in everyday life as well and that the people in Amarna used hair extensions in their daily life.'

Out of 100 skulls analysed, 28 still had hair. The type of hair ranged from curly black to light brown and curly, suggesting some ethnic diversity in the region.

Skulls with in tact hair often had curls around their ears, and many also had braids.


One skull had extensions made of grey and dark black hair suggesting a number of different people donated their hair to create the piece

'All braids found in the coiffures were simple and of three strands, mostly 0.4 inches wide, with strands of approximately 0.2 inches (5mm) when tightly braided,' Ms Bos writes in the journal article.

People at Amarna also liked to keep their hair short. 'Braids were often not more than 7.9 inches (20cm) long, leaving the hair at shoulder length approximately,' Ms Bos added.

And it appears ancient Egyptian women used a similar technique to hide their greys. Some of the skulls shows evidence of a dye, possibly henna, used on hair.

Think you know mummies? Think again...


Out of 100 skulls analysed, 28 still had hair. The type of hair ranged from curly black to light brown and curly, suggesting some ethnic diversity in the region. Pictured is the Egyptian lady with 70 hair extensions


The skulls were found in Amarna, which was constructed as a new capital of Egypt by the pharaoh Akhenaten


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2762537/The-way-Egypt-3-000-year-old-Amarnian-woman-unearthed-70-HAIR-EXTENSIONS-tied-intricate-layers.html#ixzz3E3XAejFg

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Fourth chamber likely at Amphipolis tomb

Posted by TANNArchaeoHeritage,

7:00 PM


A high-ranking Ministry of Culture official told Greek news sources that the archaeologists who are currently clearing out the dirt from the third chamber in the Amphipolis tomb believe that a fourth chamber may exist. Meanwhile, the head of the excavation Katerina Peristeri told journalists that based on the findings so far, she believes the enigmatic tomb definitely dates back to the last quarter of the 4th century B.C. Mrs. Peristeri complained about colleagues who appear in the media claiming that the tomb may have been constructed in the Roman era. “The tomb is Macedonian. We have all the proof for that." said Mrs. Peristeri. "It’s futile for some people to say that it is Roman. I feel indignation against some colleagues of mine that speak to the TV channels, just for 5 minutes on prime time TV without knowing anything about the excavation.” The archaeologist stressed that the excavation will not just benefit archaeology, but the country itself and praised the efforts of her associates in the dig. Regarding the progress of the excavation, the archaeologists have removed two rows of stones on the wall that was in front of the caryatid statues and continue to remove dirt from the tomb. Mrs. Peristeri noted that further structural support work is being carried out in the second chamber. As to whether the tomb has been plundered or not, it appears that attempts to raid the first two chambers may have occurred in Roman times, but the third chamber appears to be intact. Source: To Vima [September 19, 2014]


Read more at: http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.de/2014/09/fourth-chamber-likely-at-amphipolis-tomb.html#.VCAi7ZRdU-g

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Ancient City Discovered in Western Greece

Culture Archaeology by Ioanna Zikakou - Sep 20, 2014


Ionia-Odos-Ancient-City Michalis Chrysochoidis, the Greek Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks, visited the archaeological site of Alikyrna near Missolonghi in western Greece, where an ancient city was recently unearthed during construction work for Ionia Odos.


The ancient city, located next to the construction site, sits in the area of Agios Thomas. Government officials were perplexed by the discovery of a previously-unknown city so large it stretches for many acres.


According to sources in the Greek media, the first findings suggest an ancient urban center which crosses over to the Ionia Odos construction site. Further excavations, research and mapping are expected.


The Central Archaeological Council of Greece and the Ministry of Culture are now responsible for the site. According to Michalis Chrisochoidis, only a small part of the city has been uncovered. “Everywhere we dig, we find something ancient,” reported the archaeologists to Greek government officials.


The Greek state, meanwhile, is concerned about the discovery’s location; sitting so close to the construction site, work on Ionia Odos has been forced to stop. Chrisochoidis noted that the procedures need to speed up, in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Culture, in order to ensure that the Ionia Odos project is not delayed.


- See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/09/20/ancient-city-discovered-in-western-greece/#sthash.LsGDpgW7.dpuf



Roman Emperor Augustus' frescoed rooms unveiled for first time after years of restoration


ROME (AFP).- Lavishly frescoed rooms in the houses of the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia are opening for the first time to the public Thursday, after years of painstaking restoration. The houses on Rome's Palatine hill where the emperor lived with his family are re-opening after a 2.5 million euro ($3.22 million) restoration to mark the 2,000 anniversary of Augustus's death -- with previously off-limit chambers on show for the first time. From garlands of flowers on Pompeian red backgrounds to majestic temples and scenes of rural bliss, the rooms are adorned with vividly coloured frescoes, many in an exceptional condition. Restorers said their task had been a complex one, with bad weather during excavation threating the prized relics of a golden era in the Eternal City. "We had to tackle a host of problems which were all connected, from underground grottos to sewers -- and I'm talking about a sewer system stretching over 35 hectares (86 acres)," Mariarosaria Barbera, Rome's archaeological superintendent, told AFP. To protect the site, tourists will have to book to join one of three daily groups of up to 20 people who will be taken around by a guide for a 15-minute visit. Cinzia Conti, head restorer, said the plan was to allow people to enjoy "a more intimate, more attentive exploration of Augustus's spaces." It will also mean "we restorers can keep an eye on and evaluate the consequences of the public walking through, for example the dust on their shoes and especially their breath," she said. Augustus's decision to build his "domus" near a grotto where Romans worshipped Romulus -- one of the twins who legend has it founded Rome -- was no coincidence. A man of power The complex was intended to symbolise not only his power but that of his wife and advisor Livia, who is said to have wielded great influence over him and went on to play an important role in Roman politics after his death. "Looking at the houses, the buildings he had built, we understand he was a man of power, of great strength, who knew what went into making a political man at the head of such a big empire," Conti said. The frescoes in Livia's house in particular are one of the most important examples of the period's style, according to Barbera. The founder of the Roman Empire was born Caius Octavius in 63 BC on the Palatine hill. The great-nephew of Julius Caesar, he was adopted as his son shortly before the latter was assassinated. Caius Octavius went on to rule over Rome for 40 years, during which the Republic experienced an era of great wealth and relative peace. Livia, the love of his life, was his third wife, whom he married when she was pregnant with her first husband's child. He adopted the baby, Tiberius, who would succeed him after his death. Augustus died aged 75, after which the Senate raised him to the status of a god and appointed Livia his chief priestess. As part of the 2,000 year celebrations, the Palatine Museum has dedicated a room to Augustus with objects connected to his life on show. © 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse


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Norfolk garden exploration at Caistor reveals ancient coins

20 September 2014 Last updated at 08:38


Experts hope to find evidence of the Iceni town or a Roman military camp at the Venta Icenorum settlement in Norfolk


Coins from the 1st and 2nd Centuries are among finds by archaeologists in gardens near a Roman town in Norfolk.


Dr Will Bowden of Nottingham University is trying to identify the settlement as a market town or an armed camp and said evidence indicates it could be either.


The Latin town name Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich, is translated as the market of the Iceni, the tribe that lived there, he said.


The modern name Caistor comes from the Latin Castrum, a military camp.


Experts have been digging test pits in gardens of the modern village.


Evidence has already been uncovered that shows an early Iron Age town well beyond the protective walls of the known Roman settlement.


Dr Will Bowden said he was reasonably confident the site runs substantially to the north of what is thought to be the archaeological site of Caistor

Dr Bowden, working with the Norfolk Archaeological Trust. said: "Most Roman towns were built up on existing Iron Age settlements or were newly established military centres.


"Our surveys have shown defensive ditches enclosing a much larger area than is covered by the street grid of the Roman town.


"This indicates the earliest nucleus of the town extended to the north and is under parts of the modern village."


Crop-mark data derived from the National Mapping Programme

Archaeological evidence shows a "kite shaped" defensive ditch extends beyond the current Roman town. Crop-mark data is copyright of the English Heritage National Mapping Programme licensed to Norfolk County Council

Dr Bowden said the Iceni occupied most of Norfolk and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire so this town was in the heart of their territory.


The digging is going to continue to get an insight into the life of the town both during the Iron Age and after the Roman occupation.


Dr Bowden said: "Often in test pits very little is found but in Caistor we have found coins and pottery from as early as the 1st Century AD.


"This has been quite exciting for us and the villagers who are discovering archaeology in their own gardens."



Kingsmead Quarry – Roman Burial Discovered with Bronze Rings

Posted Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:09 by Karen Nichols


One of the discoveries from this year’s excavation at the CEMEX Kingsmead Quarry is a human burial with bronze ear or hair rings. As with other skeletons at the Quarry, the bone is poorly preserved. In this case some of the bone, including the skull was block lifted for excavation in the lab by WA staff  – osteoarchaeologist Kirsten Dinwiddy and conservator Lynn Wootten. X-rays of the soil block discovered objects of bronze on either side of what remained of the skull including a set of three fine bronze rings and a single ring made from a twisted strip of probable bronze.


The soil blocks will now be carefully excavated to record the position of the rings relative to the remains of the skull to try and determine whether they are hair or ear rings. Provisional examination of the form and style of the rings suggest that the burial could be of Late Iron Age or Roman date and may well be an inhabitant of the nearby settlement that was found during previous work.    

- See more at: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/blogs/news/2014/09/16/kingsmead-quarry-bronze-rings?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+wessexarchaeology+(Wessex+Archaeology)#sthash.U0gWXl5o.dpuf



The baby burials at Yewden


Study of a remarkable group of Roman-era baby burials suggests they were the victims of infanticide, designed to regulate family size.


In 1912, Alfred Cocks excavated the Yewden Roman Villa at Hambleden, Buckinghamshire. He noted a remarkable total of 97 infant burials, mainly from a yard adjacent to the villa buildings. The sheer number led Cocks to suggest that they may have been victims of infanticide – the deliberate killing of unwanted babies, a practice for limiting family size that was tolerated in many earlier societies, including that of Classical Rome. The Yewden site has become famous for its infant burials, but the suggestion that they were deliberately killed has remained speculative. There were no marks of violence on the bones, but this is not surprising as a newborn baby’s life is easily extinguished by such methods as suffocation. New scientific methods have recently been developed for identifying and studying infanticide using skeletal remains, so the time seemed ripe for a re-examination of the bones. A project, led by English Heritage, and involving Chiltern Archaeology, the University of Bristol, the University of Manchester and the Open University, was instituted to study the skeletal remains of the infants and to shed light on why they died.

The age at death of a newborn baby can be estimated quite accurately by making measurements of its bones.

Infanticide is normally carried out immediately after birth, so its regular practice results in an age-at-death

profile with a strong spike at the age corresponding to a full-term baby. By contrast, natural deaths (still births and natural deaths soon after birth) result in a more dispersed age distribution. In the Yewden data there was a strong spike in the age distribution at 38–40 gestational weeks, about the age of a full-term child. While this supports the idea of infanticide, it does not mean that all the Yewden babies died in this way; rather it means that the act was carried out with sufficient regularity to have a marked impact on the age-at-death profile.

Comparison with a Roman site in the Middle East suggested one possible explanation for the infanticides at Yewden. At Ashkelon in Israel, a large number of infants were found casually disposed of in a sewer which ran beneath a Roman bathhouse. As at Yewden, their bone sizes indicated they were mostly full-term babies. As bathhouses often functioned as brothels in the Roman world, the archaeologists studying the Ashkelon site suggested that these babies were the unwanted offspring of the prostitutes who worked at the brothel.

Could a similar explanation apply at Yewden Roman Villa? The site’s location, at first glance, made this

seem a little unlikely. Those brothels known from the Roman world tended to be in cities, especially ports.

However Yewden lay at an important crossing point of the River Thames, and perhaps could have generated sufficient passing custom to make such a business viable.


In Roman society, sons were often more valued than daughters, but when the Ashkelon babies were analysed for DNA, it became clear that most of them were male. This seemed consistent with the idea that the site functioned as a brothel: selected female offspring might have been raised as prostitutes, while the (mostly male) remainder were discarded. With this in mind, a DNA study was undertaken to try and determine the sex of the Yewden infants. The results showed a balanced sex ratio, providing no evidence for the selective rearing of babies of one sex over those of the other. The DNA results also showed that all the babies came from different mothers. To some extent this too argues against the brothel theory, which perhaps makes it more likely that there would be repeated unwanted pregnancies in individual women.

There is thus little evidence to support the brothel theory. It seems much more likely that the Yewden burials are the result of the routine practice of infanticide to limit family size.The examination of the infant bones also produced a rather unexpected finding: one skeleton, of a newborn baby girl, showed cut-marks in the form of a series of five parallel incisions on the back of its right femur, near the top. Microscopic study showed these marks had probably been produced by a single, non-serrated metal blade.


The location of the marks makes them unlikely to have been inflicted with the intent of killing the infant.

Their purpose is unclear, but is possible that they were the result of an obstetric operation. Embyrotomy, the removal of a foetus by dismemberment when it becomes stuck in the birth canal, is an operation detailed in Roman medical texts. These describe the use of knives, hooks and crushing devices to dismember and remove the foetus. The cut-marks on the right thigh of the Yewden baby may have been the result of attempts to free a breech-birth foetus by amputating the leg at the hip. The baby may already have been dead or dying, and the surgeon may have been attempting to save the life of the mother. If this interpretation is correct, it would seem to indicate that the villa inhabitants were able to avail themselves of the best obstetric care on offer in Roman Britain.

At the time the Yewden site was excavated, there was little that scientific analysis of the infants could

contribute to the burning archaeological questions of the day, and so they received only cursory study. However, Alfred Cocks made sure that their remains were kept in the site archive for posterity. One hundred years later we are reaping the benefits of his foresight. The infanticide project is now complete, but the skeletons are being used to advance other areas of research, such as the study of how infant bones decay in the soil. No doubt future scientific developments will teach us more about the inhabitants of Yewden Roman Villa.



Archaeologists dig up first Viking fortress found in more than 6 decades

By Matt CantorPublished September 22, 2014Newser


Archaeologists have dug up a rare find in Denmark: a Viking fortress. It's the first such discovery in more than 60 years, ScienceNordic reports. Researchers were clued in to its possible existence after examining the placement of fortresses nearby.


"It was clear that there was a fortress missing," says researcher Søren Sindbæk. His team investigated the area using archaeological technology: They developed a "ghost image" of the fortress using data on magnetic variations in the earth, World.Mic reports.


The discovery of "Vallø Borgring," located near Copenhagen, offered "the biggest rush an archaeologist can experience," Sindbæk says. Likely built around the 10th century, the fortress is a ring shape some 476 feet across.


"Although there were Vikings in other countries, these circular fortresses are unique to Denmark. Many have given up hope that there were many of them left," says a historian, as the Delhi Daily News reports.


But Sindbæk thinks there are more Viking fortresses to be found: "I'm excited for the future," he says. (Earlier this year, researchers found a skeleton that may have belonged to a long-lost Viking king.)



Modern forensic techniques identify most likely cause of King Richard III’s death

Date: September 17, 2014

Source: The Lancet



The remains of King Richard III -- the last English monarch to die in battle -- were found under a car park in Leicester by archaeologists. The forensic imaging team used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of injured bones to analyze trauma to the 500-year-old skeleton carefully, and to determine which of the King's wounds might have proved fatal.


The remains of King Richard III -- the last English monarch to die in battle -- were found under a car park in Leicester by archaeologists from the University of Leicester, and subsequently identified by a multidisciplinary team from the University.


The forensic imaging team, working with the Forensic Pathology Unit and the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester, used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of injured bones to analyse trauma to the 500-year-old skeleton carefully, and to determine which of the King's wounds might have proved fatal. They also analysed tool marks on bone to identify the medieval weapons potentially responsible for his injuries.

The results, published in The Lancet, show that Richard's skeleton sustained 11 wounds at or near the time of his death -- nine of them to the skull, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had removed or lost his helmet, and two to the postcranial skeleton.

Sarah Hainsworth, study author and Professor of Materials Engineering at the University of Leicester explains, "Richard's injuries represent a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period. The wounds to the skull suggest that he was not wearing a helmet, and the absence of defensive wounds on his arms and hands indicate that he was otherwise still armoured at the time of his death."

The investigators, led by Dr Jo Appleby of the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History, surmise that the postcranial injuries, including the potentially fatal one to the pelvis, might have been inflicted after Richard's death, on the basis that had he been alive he would have been wearing a specific type of armour worn in the late 15th century that would have prevented such wounds.

According to Professor Guy Rutty, study co-author, from the East Midlands Pathology Unit at the University of Leicester, "The most likely injuries to have caused the King's death are the two to the inferior aspect of the skull -- a large sharp force trauma possibly from a sword or staff weapon, such as a halberd or bill, and a penetrating injury from the tip of an edged weapon. Richard's head injuries are consistent with some near-contemporary accounts of the battle, which suggest that Richard abandoned his horse after it became stuck in a mire and was killed while fighting his enemies."

Commenting on the research, Dr Heather Bonney from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, says, "Appleby and colleagues provide a compelling account, giving tantalising glimpses into the validity of the historic accounts of his death, which were heavily edited by the Tudors in the following 200 years. Wherever his remains are again laid to rest, I am sure that Richard III will continue to divide opinion fiercely for centuries to come."

The Dig for Richard III was led and funded by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Lancet. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

Jo Appleby, Guy N Rutty, Sarah V Hainsworth, Robert C Woosnam-Savage, Bruno Morgan, Alison Brough, Richard W Earp, Claire Robinson, Turi E King, Mathew Morris, Richard Buckley. Perimortem trauma in King Richard III: a skeletal analysis. The Lancet, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60804-7


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The Lancet. "Modern forensic techniques identify most likely cause of King Richard III’s death." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 September 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140917073116.htm>.