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According to new research, nomadic horse culture -- famously associated with Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes -- can trace its roots back more than 3,000 years in the eastern Eurasian Steppes, in the territory of modern Mongolia (Figure 1). The study, published online March 31 in Journal of Archaeological Science, produces scientific estimates of the age of horse bones found from archaeological sites belonging to a culture known as the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Complex. This culture, named for the beautiful carved standing stones ("deer stones") and burial mounds (khirigsuurs) it built across the Mongolian Steppe (Figure 2), is linked with some of the oldest evidence for nomadic herding and domestic livestock use in eastern Eurasia. At both deer stones and khirigsuurs, stone mounds containing ritual burials of domestic horses - sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands - are found buried around the edge of each monument (Figure 3). A team of researchers from several academic institutions - including the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Yale University, University of Chicago, the American Center for Mongolian Studies, and the National Museum of Mongolia - used a scientific dating technique known as radiocarbon dating to estimate the spread of domestic horse ritual at deer stones and khirigsuurs. When an organism dies, an unstable radioactive molecule present in living tissues, known as radiocarbon, begins to decay at a known rate. By measuring the remaining concentration of radiocarbon in organic materials, such as horse bone, archaeologists can estimate how many years ago an animal took its final step. Many previous archaeological projects in Mongolia produced radiocarbon date estimates from horse remains found at these Bronze Age archaeological sites. However, because each of these measurements must be calibrated to account for natural variation in the environment over time, individual dates have large amounts of error and uncertainty, making them difficult to aggregate or interpret in groups. By using a statistical technique known as Bayesian analysis - which combines probability with archaeological information to improve precision for groups of radiocarbon dates - the study authors were able to produce a high-precision chronology model for early domestic horse use in Mongolia. Lead author William Taylor, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, says that this model "enables us for the first time to link horse use with other important cultural developments in ancient Mongolia and eastern Eurasia, and evaluate the role of climate and environmental change in the local origins of horse riding." According to the study, domestic horse ritual spread rapidly across the Mongol Steppe at around 1200 BC - several hundred years before mounted horsemen are clearly documented historical records. When considered alongside other evidence for horse transport in the Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Complex these results suggest that Mongolia was an epicenter for early horse culture - and probably early mounted horseback riding. The study has important consequences for our understanding of human responses to climate change. For example, one particularly influential hypothesis argues that horse riding and nomadic herding societies developed during the late second millennium BCE, as a response to drought and a worsening climate. Taylor and colleagues' results indicate instead that early horsemanship took place during a wetter, more productive climate period - which may have given herders more room to experiment with horse breeding and transport. In recent years, scholars have become increasingly aware of the role played by Inner Asian nomads in early waves of globalization. A key article by Dr. Michael Frachetti and colleagues, published this month in Nature argues that nomadic movement patterns shaped the early trans-Eurasian trade networks that would eventually move goods, people, and information across the continent. The development of horsemanship by Mongolian cultures might have been one of the most influential changes in Eurasian prehistory - laying the groundwork for the economic and ecological exchange networks that defined the Old World for centuries to come.


News Article | November 2, 2016
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Tools, pigments, and other artifacts found in an ancient rock shelter could place humans in the Australian interior 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, say scientists. A sharpened bone point, dated to 40-38 thousand years old and now the oldest bone tool yet found in Australia. Likely to be ground from the cylindrical portion of the proximal end of a macropod fibula similar in size to Petrogale xanthopus, Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby. Scientists often look at the peopling of Australia as a sort of benchmark for when modern humans were spreading out of Africa and establishing populations across the globe. But the details of that story are still hotly debated. Estimates of when the first people arrived on the continent range from 45,000 to 60,000 years ago and researchers debate where these first Australians went next and how they lived. But an artifact-filled ancient rock shelter in the southern interior of Australia may help archaeologists clarify that story. Radiocarbon dating suggests the cliff-side shelter, called Warratyi, may have first been inhabited some 49,000 years ago, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature. And, as the paper's authors assert humans first arrived in northwest Australia some 50,000 years ago, that means humans may have hustled well over 1,000 miles over the course of just about a millennium. This also would place humans in the continent's interior nearly 10,000 years earlier than other archaeological evidence has suggested, study lead author Giles Hamm of La Trobe University in Melbourne said in a Nature podcast. Previously researchers thought humans began spreading along the then-rainforested coasts of Australia upon arrival, populating the less lush interior no earlier than 40,000 years ago. But, as the Warratyi shelter is over 100 miles inland, that may not have been the case. "It's potentially a landmark publication," Michael Petraglia, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany who was not part of the study, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "It's a very important new site and a very important new excavation," he says of the new study. "It's chock full of new information." But Dr. Petraglia urges caution. "While I welcome this new excavation in an important area," he says, "It's only about three feet of sediment that represents more than 40,000 years of history." And because the site is "pretty low-resolution" and it's just one site, Petraglia says more sites will help put these new artifacts into context. Still, Petraglia says the complex tools found at the site suggest that these first Australians were highly innovative and culturally advanced when they first arrived. Among the oldest artifacts at the site, the researchers found red ochre on some tools suggesting the earliest known use of a pigment used today in cultural body adornment. The team also found tools made of bone that they dated to be between 38,000 and 40,000 years old, and tools used just a few thousand years later that were made by attaching multiple pieces, like a sharp stone to a shaft, for example. "That's fantastic because some of the theories out there have been that they were sort of depauperate in their knowledge and that [the first] Australian aborigines were only making simple stone tools, for example, and very little else," Petraglia says. And "this is showing that people were already not only technologically advanced, but symbolically advanced, cognitively advanced." In many regions, large animals began going extinct when humans arrived on the scene. But scientists have yet to agree whether humans had a hand in megafaunal extinctions or if, as the other popular theory suggests, climate change killed them off. "Sites with evidence of megafaunal hunting are relatively common on other continents, such as North America, but a definitive case has been out of reach in Australia," Brian Codding, an anthropologist at the University of Utah who was not part of the study, tells the Monitor in an email. But the Warratyi shelter could change that. Among the prehistoric tools, Dr. Hamm and his colleagues found a bone belonging to a Diprotodon optatum, a massive extinct herbivore thought to be the largest marsupial to have ever existed. It's unlikely this humongous animal clambered up the rocks itself, so the researchers think humans must have carried the bone up some 46,000 years ago. It's unclear whether humans hunted the animal thought to weigh more than 6,000 pounds. But the researchers also found fragments of eggshells from the extinct, large flightless bird Genyornis newtoni among the oldest artifacts at the site. And they think some of those shells were burnt, suggesting the first Australians were already cooking up the birds' eggs. "Many have argued that humans played no role in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna," Dr. Codding says. But based on the artifacts found associated with the animals' remains, "the authors of this paper suggest otherwise." "If this finding is supported by further investigations," he says, "this will be a game-changer for Australian prehistory."


News Article | November 2, 2016
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Tools, pigments, and other artifacts found in an ancient rock shelter could place humans in the Australian interior 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, say scientists. A sharpened bone point, dated to 40-38 thousand years old and now the oldest bone tool yet found in Australia. Likely to be ground from the cylindrical portion of the proximal end of a macropod fibula similar in size to Petrogale xanthopus, Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby. Scientists often look at the peopling of Australia as a sort of benchmark for when modern humans were spreading out of Africa and establishing populations across the globe. But the details of that story are still hotly debated. Estimates of when the first people arrived on the continent range from 45,000 to 60,000 years ago and researchers debate where these first Australians went next and how they lived. But an artifact-filled ancient rock shelter in the southern interior of Australia may help archaeologists clarify that story. Radiocarbon dating suggests the cliff-side shelter, called Warratyi, may have first been inhabited some 49,000 years ago, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature. And, as the paper's authors assert humans first arrived in northwest Australia some 50,000 years ago, that means humans may have hustled well over 1,000 miles over the course of just about a millennium. This also would place humans in the continent's interior nearly 10,000 years earlier than other archaeological evidence has suggested, study lead author Giles Hamm of La Trobe University in Melbourne said in a Nature podcast. Previously researchers thought humans began spreading along the then-rainforested coasts of Australia upon arrival, populating the less lush interior no earlier than 40,000 years ago. But, as the Warratyi shelter is over 100 miles inland, that may not have been the case. "It's potentially a landmark publication," Michael Petraglia, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany who was not part of the study, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "It's a very important new site and a very important new excavation," he says of the new study. "It's chock full of new information." But Dr. Petraglia urges caution. "While I welcome this new excavation in an important area," he says, "It's only about three feet of sediment that represents more than 40,000 years of history." And because the site is "pretty low-resolution" and it's just one site, Petraglia says more sites will help put these new artifacts into context. Still, Petraglia says the complex tools found at the site suggest that these first Australians were highly innovative and culturally advanced when they first arrived. Among the oldest artifacts at the site, the researchers found red ochre on some tools suggesting the earliest known use of a pigment used today in cultural body adornment. The team also found tools made of bone that they dated to be between 38,000 and 40,000 years old, and tools used just a few thousand years later that were made by attaching multiple pieces, like a sharp stone to a shaft, for example. "That's fantastic because some of the theories out there have been that they were sort of depauperate in their knowledge and that [the first] Australian aborigines were only making simple stone tools, for example, and very little else," Petraglia says. And "this is showing that people were already not only technologically advanced, but symbolically advanced, cognitively advanced." In many regions, large animals began going extinct when humans arrived on the scene. But scientists have yet to agree whether humans had a hand in megafaunal extinctions or if, as the other popular theory suggests, climate change killed them off. "Sites with evidence of megafaunal hunting are relatively common on other continents, such as North America, but a definitive case has been out of reach in Australia," Brian Codding, an anthropologist at the University of Utah who was not part of the study, tells the Monitor in an email. But the Warratyi shelter could change that. Among the prehistoric tools, Dr. Hamm and his colleagues found a bone belonging to a Diprotodon optatum, a massive extinct herbivore thought to be the largest marsupial to have ever existed. It's unlikely this humongous animal clambered up the rocks itself, so the researchers think humans must have carried the bone up some 46,000 years ago. It's unclear whether humans hunted the animal thought to weigh more than 6,000 pounds. But the researchers also found fragments of eggshells from the extinct, large flightless bird Genyornis newtoni among the oldest artifacts at the site. And they think some of those shells were burnt, suggesting the first Australians were already cooking up the birds' eggs. "Many have argued that humans played no role in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna," Dr. Codding says. But based on the artifacts found associated with the animals' remains, "the authors of this paper suggest otherwise." "If this finding is supported by further investigations," he says, "this will be a game-changer for Australian prehistory."


News Article | November 2, 2016
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Tools, pigments, and other artifacts found in an ancient rock shelter could place humans in the Australian interior 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, say scientists. A sharpened bone point, dated to 40-38 thousand years old and now the oldest bone tool yet found in Australia. Likely to be ground from the cylindrical portion of the proximal end of a macropod fibula similar in size to Petrogale xanthopus, Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby. Scientists often look at the peopling of Australia as a sort of benchmark for when modern humans were spreading out of Africa and establishing populations across the globe. But the details of that story are still hotly debated. Estimates of when the first people arrived on the continent range from 45,000 to 60,000 years ago and researchers debate where these first Australians went next and how they lived. But an artifact-filled ancient rock shelter in the southern interior of Australia may help archaeologists clarify that story. Radiocarbon dating suggests the cliff-side shelter, called Warratyi, may have first been inhabited some 49,000 years ago, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature. And, as the paper's authors assert humans first arrived in northwest Australia some 50,000 years ago, that means humans may have hustled well over 1,000 miles over the course of just about a millennium. This also would place humans in the continent's interior nearly 10,000 years earlier than other archaeological evidence has suggested, study lead author Giles Hamm of La Trobe University in Melbourne said in a Nature podcast. Previously researchers thought humans began spreading along the then-rainforested coasts of Australia upon arrival, populating the less lush interior no earlier than 40,000 years ago. But, as the Warratyi shelter is over 100 miles inland, that may not have been the case. "It's potentially a landmark publication," Michael Petraglia, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany who was not part of the study, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "It's a very important new site and a very important new excavation," he says of the new study. "It's chock full of new information." But Dr. Petraglia urges caution. "While I welcome this new excavation in an important area," he says, "It's only about three feet of sediment that represents more than 40,000 years of history." And because the site is "pretty low-resolution" and it's just one site, Petraglia says more sites will help put these new artifacts into context. Still, Petraglia says the complex tools found at the site suggest that these first Australians were highly innovative and culturally advanced when they first arrived. Among the oldest artifacts at the site, the researchers found red ochre on some tools suggesting the earliest known use of a pigment used today in cultural body adornment. The team also found tools made of bone that they dated to be between 38,000 and 40,000 years old, and tools used just a few thousand years later that were made by attaching multiple pieces, like a sharp stone to a shaft, for example. "That's fantastic because some of the theories out there have been that they were sort of depauperate in their knowledge and that [the first] Australian aborigines were only making simple stone tools, for example, and very little else," Petraglia says. And "this is showing that people were already not only technologically advanced, but symbolically advanced, cognitively advanced." In many regions, large animals began going extinct when humans arrived on the scene. But scientists have yet to agree whether humans had a hand in megafaunal extinctions or if, as the other popular theory suggests, climate change killed them off. "Sites with evidence of megafaunal hunting are relatively common on other continents, such as North America, but a definitive case has been out of reach in Australia," Brian Codding, an anthropologist at the University of Utah who was not part of the study, tells the Monitor in an email. But the Warratyi shelter could change that. Among the prehistoric tools, Dr. Hamm and his colleagues found a bone belonging to a Diprotodon optatum, a massive extinct herbivore thought to be the largest marsupial to have ever existed. It's unlikely this humongous animal clambered up the rocks itself, so the researchers think humans must have carried the bone up some 46,000 years ago. It's unclear whether humans hunted the animal thought to weigh more than 6,000 pounds. But the researchers also found fragments of eggshells from the extinct, large flightless bird Genyornis newtoni among the oldest artifacts at the site. And they think some of those shells were burnt, suggesting the first Australians were already cooking up the birds' eggs. "Many have argued that humans played no role in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna," Dr. Codding says. But based on the artifacts found associated with the animals' remains, "the authors of this paper suggest otherwise." "If this finding is supported by further investigations," he says, "this will be a game-changer for Australian prehistory."


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Salmonella infections could have been one of the contributing factors that resulted in a large number of deaths among the Aztecs that lived in Mexico before the Spaniards arrived. The die-off could have caused the fall of the Aztec empire. The native population of the Aztecs is believed to number about 25 million when the Spanish explorers arrived in 1519. One hundred years later, however, the number of natives in the New World decreased to just 1 million. Earlier studies suggested that the drop in the local population occurred mostly because of diseases that were brought by the European explorers, but until now no disease has been conclusively identified as responsible for the decline of the Aztec population. In two new studies, researchers have suggested that a strain of salmonella could be behind the dramatic population drop. Foodborne illnesses are often attributed to salmonella. Fears over salmonella contamination that could potentially cause illness often prompt recalls of food products but only a few of the salmonella serotypes are responsible for most foodborne illnesses. The salmonella strain known as Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C is known to cause enteric fever, a bacterial infection with symptoms similar to those of typhoid fever and kills between 10 to 15 percent of those infected. Researchers now think that this strain of salmonella could be what caused the illness that killed millions of natives in Mexico. Study researcher Ashild Vagene, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and colleagues sequenced the DNA taken from the teeth of Aztecs that died during the cocoliztli epidemic that ran between 1545 and 1576. The epidemic killed about 80 percent of the population. Several diseases including smallpox, measles, and typhus have been blamed for the outbreak but no solid evidence has yet been established to confirm any of the hypotheses. Using the metagenomic tool MALT to find traces of ancient pathogen, the researchers reported finding S. enterica in several of the samples they collected and analyzed. "We propose that S. Paratyphi C contributed to the population decline during the 1545 cocoliztli outbreak in Mexico," the researchers reported in their study. Researchers of the second study studied the remains of a woman who died in Norway 300 years before the cocoliztli epidemic occurred and found evidence of S. enterica. The discovery suggests that the salmonella strain present in the New World victims may have originated from Europe, albeit it was not clear how closely the strains matched. "We recovered a draft Paratyphi C genome from the 800-year-old skeleton of a young woman in Trondheim, Norway, who likely died of enteric fever," study researcher Zhemin Zhou, from University of Warwick, and colleagues wrote. Both studies, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, did not provide conclusive evidence that salmonella was the disease that caused the death of the Aztecs, however. The evidence though hints that it likely made a contribution to the eventual collapse of the Aztec empire. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.nature.com

One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella from Europe, a pair of studies suggest. In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country's native inhabitants. The team reports its findings in a preprint posted on the bioRxiv server on 8 February1. This is potentially the first genetic evidence of the pathogen that caused the massive decline in native populations after European colonization, says Hannes Schroeder, an ancient-DNA researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen who was not involved in the work. “It’s a super-cool study.” In 1519, when forces led by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in Mexico, the native population was estimated at about 25 million. A century later, after a Spanish victory and a series of epidemics, numbers had plunged to around 1 million. The largest of these disease outbreaks were known as cocoliztli (from the word for ‘pestilence’ in Nahuatl, the Aztec language). Two major cocoliztli, beginning in 1545 and 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 18 million people living in Mexico’s highland regions. “In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches,” noted a Franciscan historian who witnessed the 1576 outbreak. There has been little consensus on the cause of cocoliztli — although measles, smallpox and typhus have all been mooted. In 2002, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City proposed that a viral haemorrhagic fever, exacerbated by a catastrophic drought, was behind the carnage2. They compared the magnitude of the 1545 outbreak to that of the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe. In an attempt to settle the question, a team led by evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, extracted and sequenced DNA from the teeth of 29 people buried in the Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico. All but five were linked to a cocoliztli that researchers think ran from 1545 to 1550. Ancient bacterial DNA recovered from several of the people matched that of Salmonella, based on comparisons with a database of more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes. Further sequencing of short, damaged DNA fragments from the remains allowed the team to reconstruct two genomes of a Salmonella enterica strain known as Paratyphi C. Today, this bacterium causes enteric fever, a typhus-like illness, that occurs mostly in developing countries. If left untreated, it kills 10–15% of infected people. It’s perfectly reasonable that the bacterium could have caused this epidemic, says Schroeder. “They make a really good case.” But María Ávila-Arcos, an evolutionary geneticist at UNAM, isn't convinced. She notes that some people suggest that a virus caused the cocoliztli, and that wouldn't have been picked up by the team’s method. Krause and his colleagues’ proposal is helped by another study posted on bioRxiv last week, which raises the possibility that Salmonella Paratyphi C arrived in Mexico from Europe3. A team led by Mark Achtman, a microbiologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, collected and sequenced the genome of the bacterial strain from the remains of a young woman buried around 1200 in a cemetery in Trondheim, Norway. It is the earliest evidence for the now-rare Salmonella strain, and proof that it was circulating in Europe, according to the study. (Both teams declined to comment on their research because their papers have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.) “Really, what we’d like to do is look at both strains together,” says Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. And if more ancient genomes can be collected from Europe and the Americas, it should be possible to find out more conclusively whether deadly pathogens such as Salmonella arrived in the New World from Europe. The existence of Salmonella Paratyphi C in Norway 300 years before it appeared in Mexico doesn’t prove that Europeans spread enteric fever to native Mexicans, says Schroeder, but that hypothesis is reasonable. A small percentage of people infected with Salmonella Paratyphi C carry the bacterium without falling ill, so apparently healthy Spaniards could have infected Mexicans who lacked natural resistance. Paratyphi C is transmitted through faecal material, and a collapse of social order during the Spanish conquest might have led to the poor sanitary conditions that are ripe for Salmonella spread, Krause and his team note in the paper. Krause’s study offers a blueprint for identifying the pathogens behind ancient outbreaks, says Schroeder. His own team plans to look for ancient pathogens in Caribbean burial sites that seem to be linked to catastrophic outbreaks, and that were established after the Europeans arrived. “The idea that some of them might have been caused by Salmonella is now a distinct possibility,” he says.


News Article | December 14, 2016
Site: www.sciencenews.org

SAN ANTONIO — A roughly 3,000-year-old cemetery on Israel’s coast is providing an unprecedented look at burial practices of the Philistines, a mysterious population known from the Old Testament for having battled the Israelites. Work at the Ashkelon cemetery from 2013 to 2016 has uncovered remains of at least 227 individuals, ranging from infants to older adults. Only a small section of the cemetery has been explored. Archaeologist and excavation director Adam Aja of the Harvard Semitic Museum estimates that approximately 1,200 people were interred there over a span of about 100 years. “For the first time, we have found a formal Philistine cemetery,” Aja said November 18 at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Aja and his colleagues first announced having found the Philistine graveyard on July 10. He was among several researchers to present their latest findings about the cemetery at the meeting. Despite the new discoveries, the geographic origins of the Philistines remain unknown, Aja said. It’s also unclear how early Philistines reached the Middle East or how much their culture changed by the time they started burying their dead at Ashkelon. Philistine burial practices have been discussed and debated for about a century. Other ancient Philistine sites in Israel, also identified in ancient texts, have yielded individual graves and small-scale burial grounds. At Ashkelon, the dead were interred in several ways. Most individuals were placed in shallow pits, often with pairs of jugs or storage containers near the bodies. Some pits contained a person’s remains that had been buried on top of one or more previously interred bodies. Bronze earrings, bracelets, rings and other jewelry adorn most skeletons of children and women. Several pit graves of male skeletons include ornamental beads or engraved stones. One grave holds a set of iron arrows near a man’s hip. A quiver probably once held the arrows at the man’s side, Aja suggested. Researchers also uncovered ashes and bone fragments from six human cremations in sealed jars placed in pit graves. At least eight stone burial chambers capped with stone slabs were also found. The largest chamber held skeletons of 23 individuals. These burial chambers were aligned in three rows that ran parallel to the coast, Aja said. Tapered storage jars found in pit graves and burial chambers were influenced by pottery of the Canaanites, a nearby population along the Mediterranean coast, said team member Janling Fu of Harvard University. Fu suspects the excavation is located at the cemetery’s edge. Considerable space between some burials suggests denser clusters of grave sites lie nearby, he proposed, raising the prospect of learning much more about how the Philistines treated their dead. Although the excavation is in its early stages, it’s clear that Philistines buried at Ashkelon show signs of physiological stress, reported bioarchaeologist and team member Sherry Fox of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Many individuals’ teeth have signs of growth interruptions caused by fever, malnutrition or a range of possible biological disorders, she said. Relatively short average heights for people buried at Ashkelon — about 5 feet, 1 inch for men and 4 feet, 10 inches for women — also fit a scenario of biological stress, Fox said. Short stature and minimal height differences between men and women occur with population-wide stresses such as malnutrition, she said. The Philistines were a famously combative crowd. Archaeologist Eric Meyers of Duke University, who was not a member of the Ashkelon team, wondered if at least some of those buried at Ashkelon had been killed in battles or fights. But no head injuries or other skeletal signs of violent encounters appeared among the dead at Ashkelon, Fox said. Neither did any skeletons contain evidence of tumors or cancers. If DNA can be extracted from the Ashkelon skeletons, scientists may get a glimpse of where the Philistines originally came from. Evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, is currently directing efforts to retrieve genetic sequences from the Ashkelon bones. “Our work has only just begun,” Aja said.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

In 1896 archaeologists excavating Pueblo Bonito, a 650-room, multistory brick edifice in northwestern New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, found the remains of 14 people in a burial crypt. Necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry made up of thousands of turquoise and shell beads accompanied the bones. The artifacts signaled that these individuals were elite members of the ancient Chaco society, one of the most important civilizations in the American Southwest. The excavations at Pueblo Bonito revealed the splendors of Chaco culture, which flourished between about A.D. 800 and 1250. The ancient Chacoans constructed at least a dozen great houses like Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon during its heyday, and dozens of other Chacoan settlements thrived in what is today the Four Corners region where the borders of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet. Soon after the excavations ended, archaeologists whisked these human remains off to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, where most of them have resided ever since. Every so often researchers take the skulls out of their cardboard storage boxes on the museum’s 5th floor and remove the rest of the bones from wooden drawers lining a nearby hallway, laying them out on long tables to study them. They want to know how these people were related to one another and what this elite group might say about how Chaco society was organized. But they have had only limited clues. Continuing excavations at Chaco over the years have suggested that most people lived in smaller adobe residences surrounding the great houses, leading the majority of archaeologists to conclude Chaco society was hierarchically structured: Elite groups had dominion over cultural, religious and political life and enjoyed special privileges. Now an analysis of DNA from the Pueblo Bonito remains is providing intimate new details about these elite groups and who belonged to them. In a paper published online this week in Nature Communications researchers report the remains belonged to a single maternal line—what the team calls a matrilineal “dynasty”—that lasted for centuries. Other scientists hailed the research as a technical tour de force that helps fulfill the promise of ancient DNA to reveal the lives of ancient peoples. But not everyone agrees with the team’s conclusions, and some experts have criticized their decision not to consult with indigenous groups before going ahead with the research. Archaeologists Douglas Kennett at The Pennsylvania State University, Stephen Plog of the University of Virginia and their colleagues took a multipronged approach to studying the Pueblo Bonito remains. They first obtained direct radiocarbon dates from 11 of the burials, which ranged from between A.D. 800 and 850 for the earliest to about 1130 for the latest. The dates established that the burials spanned a period of some 330 years. Next the team extracted so-called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the remains. Mitochondria are tiny subcellular bodies that serve as the power plants for living cells, and their DNA is only inherited via the mother. The researchers were able to sequence an average of 98 percent of the mtDNA from nine individuals spanning the entire 330-year chronological sequence. Remarkably, all nine sequences were identical, meaning that each generation descended from the same original maternal ancestor. Finally, in an effort to tease out specific family relationships, the team sequenced nuclear DNA—which is inherited from both the mother and father—from six of the burials. These sequences suggested that at least two pairs of individuals were very closely related and probably represented a mother–daughter and grandmother–grandson relationship. The authors argue this elite group, in which power and influence flowed from mothers to their children, ruled at Pueblo Bonito from the earliest days of its founding around A.D. 800. Plog says the group’s clout probably stemmed from its control of ritual practices at Pueblo Bonito, as evidence by the discovery of objects such as carved wooden flutes and ceremonial staffs in the burial crypt. The study provides “impressively high resolution” of these matrilineal family ties, says Johannes Krause, a paleogeneticist at Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. Jennifer Raff, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas, agrees. “Paleogenomics approaches like this one can give us insights into the lives of ancient peoples on a scale never before possible.” Neither were involved with the study. The team’s interpretation of the genetic results makes sense to a number of outside researchers. “This indicates that hereditary leadership was present at the time of Pueblo Bonito’s founding” rather than gradually developing later as some earlier studies had suggested, says Jill Neitzel, an archaeologist at the University of Delaware. “The data show a group of related women, and some men, who can be argued to have been the persistent leaders of Pueblo Bonito for more than 300 years,” says Paul Reed, an archaeologist with Tucson, Ariz.–based Archaeology Southwest. “This research provides some of the most important information about Chaco in many decades,” says Paul Minnis, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma. “While most every scholar recognizes that Chaco was centrally organized, the nature of that organization has remained maddeningly opaque.” Yet Minnis and others question whether the team is right to call this elite group a dynasty, a term that usually refers to kings and queens who exercise sole rule over vast territories and populations. The Pueblo Bonito group “was clearly an important one,” says Barbara Mills, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “But was it the only one?” In her view the findings do not prove their power and influence stretched beyond Pueblo Bonito itself, to include all of Chaco Canyon or even the wider “Chaco world.” Nevertheless, the authors argue their results may resolve another longstanding question. Today’s Pueblo peoples claim, on fairly firm archaeological grounds, to be the direct descendants of the Chacoans; so do the Navajo, on whose land Chaco Canyon now sits. In many modern Pueblo groups, including the Hopi and Zuni of Arizona and New Mexico, respectively, descent and inheritance are determined by one’s membership in a maternal clan. (A similar arrangement prevails among Orthodox and some Conservative Jews, for whom Jewish identity depends on having a Jewish mother.) Did they inherit this arrangement from their ancient Chacoan ancestors? Or, as archaeologist John Ware of the Amerind Foundation in Arizona has argued, did early kinship ties in Chaco society give way to rule by so-called “sodalities” based on shared ritual knowledge and practices, such as priests and brotherhoods, in which case some modern Pueblos may have developed their matrilineal organization independently? Kennett, Plog and their colleagues argue their findings support the hypothesis of direct continuity between Chacoan matrilines and those of many Pueblo groups today. Even as the work lends new support to the affinities between modern indigenous groups and ancient Chacoans, the researchers’ efforts have landed them in a minefield of research ethics. In 1990 Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which dictates human remains and other artifacts found on federal or tribal lands must be repatriated to tribal groups if they can successfully establish a direct cultural relationship to them. In some instances such as the famed controversy over the 8,500-year-old Kennewick Man from Washington State, Native Americans and researchers have fought bitterly over who had right of possession. In the case of the Chaco remains the AMNH decided the NAGPRA did not apply, meaning the researchers were not legally required to get approval from the tribes before conducting research on the remains. In a statement approved by the paper’s 14 authors, the team said that in deciding to not consult the tribes, it relied on the AMNH’s determination that “the cultural complexity of the region made it impossible to establish a clear ancestor–descendant relationship with specific modern communities based on existing data.” The AMNH, in a separate statement, said “the research had considerable scientific merit with little impact on the artifacts and human remains,” adding that it had contacted “potentially affiliated tribes” during the late 1990s but that “none came forward to claim affiliation.” But that decision does not sit well with some critics. “Despite the fact the authors’ work was technically legal, the ethics here are questionable,” says Chaco researcher Ruth Van Dyke of Binghamton University in New York State. “Studies using ancient indigenous DNA should not be done without tribal consultation.” Rebecca Tsosie, a law professor of Native American descent at the University of Arizona who specializes in tribal and U.S. Indian law, agrees. “I am dismayed that there was not an effort to engage contemporary tribal leaders prior to undertaking and publishing this study,” Tsosie says, adding that the research is a “prime example” of “a study by cultural outsiders to dictate the truth of the history and structure of governance of the cultural insiders, Pueblo Indian nations.” Team member George Perry, an ancient DNA expert at Penn State, says that whereas the researchers did not formally consult with tribal leaders nor seek their approval to carry out the study beforehand, he is now “working diligently to engage with multiple groups in the Southwest” to “present and discuss the results of the research.” Getting the blessing of indigenous groups may be key to further research because there are other burials at Pueblo Bonito and other Chacoan sites yet to be studied. Moreover, some archaeologists say, some indigenous people might eventually opt to have their own DNA sequenced to see how closely related they might be to ancient Chacoan ancestors—a step taken by at least one Washington State tribal group that turned out to have a close genetic affiliation with Kennewick Man. In that example the scientific evidence backed up tribal arguments for repatriation of what they call “The Ancient One,” and its remains were reinterred by Northwest tribes on February 18 in a secret location. Some archaeologists are hoping the new study will be just a first step toward a fuller and more detailed understanding of how the ancient Chacoans lived. “How this matriline functioned in the ritual, social and political life of the Chacoans demands more research,” Minnis says. Until other burials can be studied, “we cannot answer the question as to whether the Pueblo Bonito matriline was recognized only by that community or by Chaco as a whole.”


News Article | May 31, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

An analysis of ancient crops has suggested that Madagascar inhabitants may have Asian origins. The study provided new clues to the mysteries of Madagascar's colonization. Past genetic studies already confirmed the Madagascar inhabitants' ancestral link to Polynesians and Malaysians. However, archeologists have failed to find evidence for the group's early presence in Madagascar until now. A team of international researchers analyzed the preserved remains of ancient plants obtained using a process called flotation. This process utilizes water and sieves to separate the residues from the sediment. The team used the remains found at 18 ancient settlement sites in coastal eastern Africa, Madagascar and the Comoros. This enabled the team to identify 2,443 individual crop remnants under a microscope. "What was amazing to us was the stark contrast that emerged between the crops on the Eastern African coast versus those on Madagascar, and the more we looked, the starker the contrast became," said lead author Alison Crowther from The University of Queensland. African crops such as pearl millet, baobab and sorghum dominated the ones found on the eastern African coast as well as the nearest islands to Madagascar. These crops had been existing on the areas for several centuries when farmers traveled through the continent. The Madagascar excavation sites yielded remnants of Asian crops such as mung bean, Asian cotton and Asian rice. The African crops found here bordered from very few to none. In the course of their investigation, they created a robust theory that the Asian crops reached Madagascar from the islands of Southeast Asia. According to senior author Nicole Boivin from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, findings showed that Southeast Asians brought the Asian crops to Madagascar, planted them and survived on them. The findings also suggested that the early Southeast Asians colonized the nearby Comoros islands. The ancient crop analysis found on these islands also yielded dominance of Asian crops. Boivin added the research did not only reveal — for the first time — the Austronesians' first archeological remnant on Madagascar, but its signature also seemed to go beyond the island. The study findings provided archeologists with new data they can use to create the history of Madagascar's colonization process using material insights. The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The development of agriculture is frequently seen as one of the major economic, social, and demographic thresholds in human history. From the perspective of the modern world it is often seen as an inevitable, desirable subsistence strategy, allowing larger populations, settled life, and the development of cities. Likewise it has even been argued that long-term human survival in tropical forests must have been impossible without some form of agricultural system, with agriculture developing as a result of climatic or environmental instability. However, these claims seem to be incorrect in the case of tropical New Guinea, as a recent study by a research crew from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the University of Otago, and the University of Oxford has demonstrated. In tropical New Guinea, where one of the earliest human experiments with agriculture occurred, agriculture apparently never replaced foraging as a primary subsistence strategy: "Montane tropical forest environments provided a stable source of subsistence for human hunter-gatherers in New Guinea", says Patrick Roberts, primary author of the study. "We have found out that foragers were living in close proximity to emerging farming groups, from 12,000 to 300 years ago, which indicates that agriculture was not a forced event in this part of the world." Tropical forests have frequently been perceived as unattractive habitats for humans - both foragers and farmers - due to poor soils, difficulties of humidity, and issues of reliable nutrition. However, archaeological work in New Guinea, among other tropical regions, has now helped to refute this idea: "We can now affirm that humans have occupied areas in this region, covered today in rainforest, from 45,000 years ago", says..., Professor Glenn Summerhayes from the University of Otago, senior author of the study. "Some of the earliest evidence for the human development of agriculture comes precisely from the tropical forested portions of New Guinea." Nevertheless, as Professor Summerhayes states "records of past environments that can be directly associated with these prehistoric human experiments are currently frequently lacking, meaning that the context of agriculture and wider human behaviour in this region remain poorly understood". The recent study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution has addressed this gap in knowledge for the region by applying stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis of fossil teeth to small regional mammals, like fruit bats, cuscus, ring-tailed possums, and macropods, to reconstruct the diets and environments of past human and animal populations. As Professor Julia Lee-Thorp from the University of Oxford, co-author of the study, points out, "it is only relatively recently that this method has been applied to small mammals. Due to their short life cycles and specialised adaptations, these animals are highly sensitive to environmental change making them perfect for obtaining a truly 'local' picture of vegetation". The team analysed the teeth of fruit bats, cuscus, ring-tailed possum and macropods from the archaeological site of Kiowa, which spans the origins of agriculture in the region (12,000-8,000 years ago), and beyond until around 300 years ago. These animals are locally well-studied, have known ecological behaviours, and are documented as being hunted by local foragers into recorded history. The results provided a new, rare environmental record for the Central Highlands of New Guinea that indicated a stability, and persistent use, of local tropical forest environments across the period of human occupation of the site. "This research enriches our understanding of the origins of agriculture in the region, indicating that stable tropical environments supported both agricultural experimentation and ongoing tropical forest foraging within a small area", states Dylan Gaffney of the University of Otago. "While intensive landscape modification and the domestication of plant taxa, including the banana, yam, and taro, occurred nearby, foragers continued to hunt and forage in tropical forest environments" states lead author, Patrick Roberts, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Human survival in New Guinea - a continuum of farming and foraging "While we often assume that agriculture is a desirable invention that replaced previous ways of obtaining food, in prehistoric New Guinea, agriculture is best seen as one part of a continuum of human survival strategies and certainly not as an inevitable development", says Roberts. This work also demonstrates how new methods, such as stable isotope analysis of tooth enamel and laser scanning from aircraft, are deepening archaeological knowledge of past human tropical forest use, where poor preservation, due to acidic soils and heavy rainfall, and difficulty of survey, due to dense vegetation, have often limited archaeological research. "The successful long-term exploitation of these environments is a key part of the adaptive flexibility that characterises our species relative to our ancestors. Humans have been able to exploit them continuously, and in diverse ways, since their first arrival there 45,000 years ago until the present-day where the expansion of plantations, industry and urbanism threaten their ongoing existence", concludes Roberts. For more information, please contact the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History News Office at +49 (0)3641 686 601 or email: presse@shh.mpg.de The paper, 'Persistent tropical foraging in the highlands of terminal Pleistocene/Holocene New Guinea' is by Patrick Roberts, Dylan Gaffney, Julia Lee-Thorp and Glenn Summerhayes. The paper was co-authored by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the University of Otago and the University of Oxford

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